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What Not To Say To A Depressed Teenager (And What To Say Instead)

Mental health problems among teenagers are a significant concern. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in seven 10-19-year-olds worldwide suffers from a mental disorder, adolescent depression being one of the most prevalent​1​.

Adolescence is a period of unique growth and development. Teenagers are more vulnerable to mental health problems when they experience physical, emotional, and social changes.

From 2000 to 2017, suicide rates among 15 to 19-year-olds increased significantly in the United States, with the highest point in 2017​2​.

Although the increase could result from more accurate reporting, depression-related suicide is still among teenagers’ leading causes of death.

Parents of teens with depression may be concerned or scared. When it comes to their teens, they feel like they’re walking on eggshells and don’t know what to do or say to them.

In their desperate attempts to comfort their teens, parents may end up saying things that make their teens’ depression worse rather than better.

depressed teenage boy sits on floor holding a cellphone

What Not To Say To Teenagers With Depression

Dismiss The Condition

  • “Just pick yourself up.”
  • “You can choose to be happy.”
  • “Try to think positive.”
  • “Just don’t think about it.”
  • “We all have stress. Just deal with it like everyone else.”

What you try to do:

You may think it’ll eventually disappear if your teen thinks it’s not there.

Why it’s bad:

Unfortunately, the word “depressed” describes other common and temporary experiences, such as “I don’t get to go to the party. I’m so depressed.”

A major depressive disorder, however, is an illness, not a temporary feeling of sadness.

Clinical depression is an illness that requires medical care, just like cancer or diabetes​3​

Diabetics cannot think away their condition. Depressed patients cannot think away their mental illness, either.

Saying things to dismiss this serious condition doesn’t make it go away. In the end, it makes you apathetic to your teen’s pain.

Trivialize Their Pain

  • “I know how you feel”
  • “It’s not that bad.”
  • “It’s ok. It’ll pass.”

What you try to do:

Minimize or dismiss their pain, and it will go away.

Why it’s bad:

You don’t know how your sad child feels if you have never had this condition. Even if you may have experienced depression before, each instance of depression can differ.

Ironically, minimizing someone’s pain makes it bigger. The more you invalidate your teenager’s pain, the more painful it becomes, and the more depressed they are​4​.

Guilt Trip Them

  • “Many people have worse problems.”
  • “Think about others, not just yourself.”
  • “You think you have it bad.”

What you try to do:

You hope that comparing will help your child realize they shouldn’t be depressed.

Why it’s bad:

First, people don’t choose to be depressed any more than they choose to have cancer. You can’t make cancer go away by comparing it with another sickness. It’s the same for depression.

Suffering is not competition. When you try to offer your child a new perspective by drawing comparisons, it implies that their struggles are insignificant compared to the hardships others face. This approach, again, trivializes their distress.

The pain of one person does not negate the pain of another. Comparing and guilt-tripping is another form of invalidation that will only make your teen feel worse​5​.

Pretend Nothing Happens

  • “Take some vitamins.”
  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “Just get out of bed and do something.”

What you try to do:

Your child will not dwell on their depression if you pretend nothing happened.

Why it’s bad:

Teen depression is not a choice. Your child cannot help the sad feelings. Feeling depressed is not an active decision to dwell on it.

In some cases, parents feel better when they pretend nothing happened. But when they bury their heads in the sand, all their teenagers see is that their parents don’t care. 

If someone who should love you doesn’t care about your pain, you would be depressed, too. Indeed, depression is exacerbated by parental indifference​6​.

Condemn Them

  • “What are you depressed about? You have everything.”
  • “Just snap out of it.”
  • “You’re just spoiled.”
  • “Stop whining.”

What you try to do:

Blaming them may seem like a good way to get them to “snap out of it.”

Why it’s bad:

Condemning depressed teenagers may make them feel worthless and ashamed. These feelings can deepen their depression or, worse, trigger suicidal thoughts​7​.

Saying hurtful things will do more harm than good.


  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  • “You’ll be fine.”
  • “You’ll get over it.”

What you try to do:

Offer hope to your depressed teenager.

Why it’s bad:

One of the characteristic depression symptoms is the loss of hope​8​.

It is difficult for depressed patients to see the hope you offer in these cliches. If you insist on them feeling something they are incapable of feeling, it can be very frustrating.

What To Say To A Depressed Teen Instead

A healthy person may have difficulty imagining what kind of mental pain a depressed person feels. 

It is alright not to understand.

Acceptance and love are what teenagers with depression want.

Here are some suggestions on how to help your depressed teen.

“I love you.”

Show your love. It’s just that simple.

When your child is sad, it is tempting to say many things to help bring more comfort to them. But simply showing your love is enough to make them feel better.

Things you can say to show your love are:

  • “I love you”
  • “I care about you.”
  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “Let me know how I can help.”
  • “You are very important to me.”
  • “I love you for who you are.”
  • “It must be tough. I can’t imagine how you feel, but I’m here to help if you need me.”

Also See: Parenting Teenagers

Don’t Feel Obligated To Say Something

A teen with depression may cry or not want to talk.

It’s instinctive for parents to seek ways to comfort their children when they see them in tears. It’s as though by stopping the crying, the depression will be alleviated as well.

Unfortunately, what we say to stop our children from crying is often wrong.

For example, “It’s okay,” “You’ll be fine,” or “Don’t worry.”

They are not what a depressed teen wants to hear.

The tears aren’t making them sad-they’re just an expression of their sadness. 

The best thing parents can do is just be there.

Rather than trying so hard to stop them from crying, hug them or lend them your shoulder to cry on and let them know you care.


If your teenager has suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-8255 to speak with someone today.


  1. 1.
    . Adolescent mental health. World Health Organization. Published 2021. Accessed 2023.
  2. 2.
    Miron O, Yu KH, Wilf-Miron R, Kohane IS. Suicide Rates Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA. Published online June 18, 2019:2362. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5054
  3. 3.
    Reddy MS. Depression: The Disorder and the Burden. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. Published online January 2010:1-2. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.70510
  4. 4.
    Buckholdt KE, Parra GR, Jobe-Shields L. Intergenerational Transmission of Emotion Dysregulation Through Parental Invalidation of Emotions: Implications for Adolescent Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors. J Child Fam Stud. Published online June 25, 2013:324-332. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9768-4
  5. 5.
    Yap MBH, Allen NB, Ladouceur CD. Maternal Socialization of Positive Affect: The Impact of Invalidation on Adolescent Emotion Regulation and Depressive Symptomatology. Child Development. Published online September 2008:1415-1431. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01196.x
  6. 6.
    Liu Y. Parent–child interaction and children’s depression: the relationships between Parent–Child interaction and children’s depressive symptoms in Taiwan. Journal of Adolescence. Published online July 9, 2003:447-457. doi:10.1016/s0140-1971(03)00029-0
  7. 7.
    Hastings ME, Northman LM, Tangney JP. Shame, Guilt, and Suicide. Suicide Science.:67-79. doi:10.1007/0-306-47233-3_6
  8. 8.
    Cheavens J. Hope and Depression. Handbook of Hope. Published online 2000:321-340. doi:10.1016/b978-012654050-5/50019-1

Updated on May 11th, 2023 by Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *