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What is depression
Treatments for depression
Working with the school

Helping depressed children or teens
What doesn't help
Finding help
More information

What is depression?

It is normal to feel sad from time to time. But this sadness doesn’t stop you from going on with your everyday activities. And it goes away on its own. Depression, on the other hand, is a sadness so severe that it interferes with everyday life.

Youth going through a depression often:

  • Feel sad, worried, irritable or angry
  • Have trouble enjoying anything
  • Feel hopeless and worthless
  • Have trouble coping with everyday activities at home, school, or work
  • Have problems with sleep, energy, appetite and concentration

With severe depression, youth may even hear voices, or have thoughts of harming themselves or others. 

Depression is more than normal sadness. A depressed person can’t ‘just snap out of it’. Studies even show physical changes in people’s brain chemistry when they are depressed.

5 Quick Facts About Depression
  1. You can recover from depression
  2. It's really common
  3. It can happen to anyone
  4. It can change the way you think, feel and act
  5. There are lots of effective treatments for it

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Depression treatments at a glance...

Many different treatments are available for depression. They can be used alone or together, depending on your child. Some treatments work well with some children, but not with others. If a treatment isn’t working (after giving it a good try, of course), your mental health professional may talk with you and your child about trying something else.

1. “Talk Therapy” or Psychotherapy

There are different types of talk therapy, including:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT): Helps children and youth change the negative, depressive thoughts and behaviours that contribute to depression, and replaces them with more helpful thoughts and behaviours.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): Helps children and youth resolve tension and conflict that can contribute to depression.
  • Solution-focused therapy: Focuses on children’s strengths. It helps them to focus on what they would like to change in their future, and what they can do to ‘get there’.

2. Medications (anti-depressants)

  • Are tools that doctors and psychiatrists can use to help ease depression
  • Adjust brain chemicals to improve your child’s mood and allow her to feel a little happier
  • Can make it easier for children and youth to take part in talk therapy
  • Are not needed by all depressed children and youth Something to Think About! If your child had asthma, would you think it would be better for her to ‘get over it’ without treatment?

Are antidepressants safe? Some people may be worried about the safety of antidepressants for children and youth.

Research shows that when used in the right way, and monitored by a doctor, antidepressants are safe and effective.

Like prescription eye-glasses, medications must be chosen and adjusted for each child or teen.

While some people have strong views about medications for depression – a balanced look at antidepressant treatment is the most helpful. Medications are not all bad, but they arenot needed all the time, either.

Outpatient and Inpatient Services

Children and youth with depression are usually treated in ‘outpatient’ clinics or community mental health centres. If the depression is severe, your child may need more intensive support from a day/evening program or by staying in hospital.


Healthy living makes a difference

Taking care of the basics can go a long way to helping your child or teen to feel better. A healthy body supports a healthy mind. Try to make sure your child:

  • Gets enough sleep. Poor sleep can cause lower mood and energy levels. See our fact sheet on Sleep Problems if your child or teen is having trouble sleeping.
  • Eats healthy meals and snacks, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some research studies suggest that a lack of Omega 3 fatty acids can make depression worse (see our fact sheet on Omega 3 fatty acids).
  • Is physically active. Children and youth need about an hour a day of physical activity,and it’s best if they get exercise outside in the sun. Research tells us that aerobic exercise(exercise that increases the heart rate and breathing) can have an anti-depressant effect.
  • Gets enough sunlight. Lack of sunlight (or vitamin D) can trigger depression in some people who are sensitive to ‘seasonal depression’. 
  •  Stays away from street drugs and alcohol. While street drugs can sometimes make youth feel better at first, they can cause more problems and make things worse after a while.

Working with the school

Speak with staff at your child’s school if school stress contributes to your child’s depression, or if the depression isaffecting your child at school. Make an appointment with your child’s teacher, guidance counselor or principal totalk about your child’s depression.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable telling the school that your child has depression, you can at least say that your child is feeling overwhelmedand having troubles with stress. Work with the school to help your child cope with stress, and to reduce some of the pressures your child may feel.Teachers may be able to help by adjusting your child's learning plan.

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Helping your depressed child or teen

Understanding and supporting a child or teen who is depressed isn’t easy.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Let your child know that you notice there is something wrong. “I’m noticing that you seem a bit different these days”; “You seem a bit stressed out these days”; “You don’t seem yourself these days.”
  • Express your concern. “I’m worried about you.” “I’m scared that there might be something wrong.”
  • Offer support. “Is there anything I can do to help?” “How can I support you?”
  • Talk, but give choices. It’s important to talk with your child, but find ways to still give your child choices. “We really need to talk about this – do you want to talk about it now, or later?”
  • Don’t forget to relax and have fun. Make sure you still have regular times when you simply have fun, relaxing times with your child. “We need to have fun times together. I have some ideas myself, but what things would you like to do?”
  • Find and work on solving problems. Help your child figure out what is causing stress, and then helpher work through ways to handle those stresses. This usually means reducing the stress if possible and teaching ways to cope. Teens may seem to be less open to your ideas. Try starting with something like, “I have some ideas about handling stress that may help you. Would you like to hear them?”
  • Take care of yourself. It can be very stressful to have a child or teen dealing with depression. It’s important to set aside a little time to take care of your own personal needs. Reach out to your own support network of friends, family and co-workers. If you are feeling burned out, seek out professional help. Sometimes the best way to help your child is to get help and support for yourself first.

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What doesn’t help

Understanding and supporting a child or teen who is depressed can be challenging. Here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t play the ‘blame game’. Blaming or making your child feel guilty for the depression won’t help anything. It can even add to the stress and make your child feel even more overwhelmed. Worse, it makes your child less willing to talk with you.
  • Don’t expect your child to just “snap out of it”. They can’t ‘will’ themselves out of a depression any more than someone could ‘snap out’ of asthma or diabetes.
  • Avoid power struggles. Try to give your child a sense of control by giving choices whenever possible. For example, you may insist that your child needs to see a counselor, but you can give a choice over which day he goes or which counselor he sees.
  • Don’t give up getting help for your child. It can be frustrating getting the right help for your child (like long waitlists or the lack of services). But if you feel something is wrong with your child, you are most certainly right. Stay persistent in getting your child help.

Find help 

Eastern Ontario

  •  In a crisis? Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario, 613-260-2360 or toll-free, 1-877-377-7775
  • Looking for mental health help? is a bilingual directory of mental health services and resources for Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and Canada.
  • Renfrew County: Phoenix Centre for Children, Youth and Families, with offices in Renfrew and Pembroke. 613-735-2374 or toll-free 1-800-465-1870, 
  • Leeds and Grenville /County: Child and Youth Wellness Centre, with offices in Brockville, Elgin, Gananoque and Prescott. 613-498-4844,
  • Lanark County: Open Doors for Lanark Children and Youth, with offices in Carleton Place, Smiths Falls and Perth. 613-283-8260
  • To find a Psychologist anywhere in Ontario: College of Psychologists of Ontario, 1-800-489-8388


Support and Advocacy Groups

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More information

Useful Websites

Books for Parents

  • Helping Your Teenager Beat Depression: a Problem-Solving Approach for Families, Katharina Manassis and Anne Marie Levac, 2004

For a list of recommended books on this topic click here to visit the Depression section of the Kaitlyn Atkinson Family Resource Library.

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