Depression Treatment in Your Teen: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Depression is a disease that can take the joy from your teen's life. Your teen may seem unhappy all the time and find no pleasure in things he or she used to enjoy. You may notice that your teen withdraws and no longer enjoys school or friends. Your teen may sleep more or less than usual. He or she may lose or gain weight. Teens with severe depression may see or hear things that aren't there (hallucinations). Or they may believe things that aren't true (delusions).

Neither you nor your teen should feel embarrassed or ashamed about depression. It's a common disease. Depression is caused by changes in the natural chemicals in the brain. It's not a character flaw. And it does not mean that your teen is a bad or weak person.

Depression can be treated. Your teen can get better. Medicines, counselling, and self-care can all help.

Follow-up care is a key part of your teen's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your teen is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your teen's test results and keep a list of the medicines your teen takes.

How can you care for your teen at home?


  • Learn about counselling. It may be all your teen needs if he or she has mild depression.
  • Help your teen find the best type of counselling. One-on-one counselling, group counselling, or family counselling may all help your teen.
  • Help your teen find a counsellor he or she can feel at ease with and trust.

Antidepressant medicines

  • If the doctor prescribed antidepressant medicines, have your teen take the medicines exactly as prescribed. Make sure your teen doesn't stop taking them. These medicines may need time to work. If your teen stops taking them too soon, the symptoms may come back or get worse.
  • Learn about antidepressants. They often work well for teens who are depressed.
    • Your teen may start to feel better after 1 to 3 weeks of taking the medicine. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement.
    • Antidepressants may increase the chance that your teen will think about or try suicide, especially in the first few weeks of use. If your teen is prescribed an antidepressant, learn the warning signs of suicide. See the "When should you call for help?" section.
  • Help your teen find the best antidepressant for him or her. Your teen may have to try different antidepressants before finding one that works. If you have concerns about the medicine, or if your teen doesn't seem better in 3 weeks, talk to your doctor.
  • Watch for side effects. Stopping suddenly can make your teen feel tired, dizzy, or nervous. Many side effects are mild and go away on their own after a few weeks. Talk to your doctor if you think side effects are bothering your teen too much.
  • Do not let your teen suddenly stop taking antidepressants. This could be dangerous. Your doctor can help your teen slowly reduce the dose to prevent problems.

To help your teen manage depression

  • Learn as much about depression as you can.
  • Give your teen support and understanding. This is one of the most important things you can do to help your teen cope with depression.
  • If your teen is going to counselling, make sure he or she goes to all appointments. If your doctor suggests family counselling, be sure you all go together.
  • Try to see that your teen eats a balanced diet. This helps the body deal with tension and stress. Whole grains, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and protein are part of a balanced diet.
  • Encourage your teen to get enough sleep. If your teen has problems, you can suggest that he or she:
    • Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool at bedtime. You may need to remove the TV, computer, telephone, or electronic games from your teen's room to avoid problems with bedtime.
    • Manage his or her homework load. This can prevent the need to study all night before a test or stay up late to do homework.
  • Encourage your teen to get plenty of exercise every day.
  • See that your teen doesn't drink alcohol, use illegal drugs, or take medicines that your doctor has not prescribed. They may interfere with your teen's treatment.
  • Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on or near your phone. To find a suicide prevention crisis centre in your province, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention webpage at If you or someone you know talks about suicide or feeling hopeless, get help right away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your teen may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your teen is thinking about suicide or is threatening suicide.
  • Your teen makes threats or attempts to harm himself or herself or another person.
  • Your teen hears or sees things that aren't real.
  • Your teen thinks or speaks in a bizarre way that is not like his or her usual behaviour.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your teen is drinking a lot of alcohol or using illegal drugs.
  • Your teen talks, reads, or draws about death. This may include writing suicide notes and talking about items that can cause harm, such as pills, knives, or guns.
  • Your teen buys guns or bullets or saves up medicines.

Watch closely for changes in your teen's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • It's hard or getting harder for your teen to deal with school, a job, family, or friends.
  • You think treatment is not helping your teen or he or she is not getting better.
  • Your teen's symptoms get worse or he or she has new symptoms.
  • Your teen has problems with antidepressant medicines, such as side effects, or is thinking about stopping the medicine.
  • Your teen is having manic behaviour. He or she may have very high energy, need less sleep than normal, or show risky behaviour such as abusing others verbally or physically.

Where can you learn more?

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