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Teenage Depression and Encouragement

When supporting your teenager to overcome depression it can be helpful to consider the types of positive reinforcement strategies that’ll help you in this task.

For depressed teenagers, even getting out of bed can feel like a marathon. Parents and professionals can help by encouraging every little non-depressed behaviour, to increase the amount of positive reinforcement the young person experiences. By adding this extra positive reinforcement, you’re helping a depressed teenager towards a more rewarding life – step by step (no matter how small). Most parents do this very naturally with younger children (eg excited praise when encouraging a toddler to take their first steps), but it might feel less natural doing this with a teenager, so you probably need to use some different techniques.

Encouraging Your Depressed Teenager

When supporting your teenager to overcome depression it can be helpful to consider the types of positive reinforcement strategies that’ll help you in this task. You may want to encourage your teenager to communicate more with the family, or to engage in more activities, or to use CBT strategies for their depression, or to attend treatment appointments. None of these things are easy to do when a young person is feeling depressed. Finding ways to reward and reinforce these behaviours will help them to make the necessary positive steps towards recovery. If you decide to use rewards then keep in mind that this is not bribery. Using rewards to help someone make steps towards feeling better is a very useful and valid strategy.

Cognitive Bases

Teenagers often have ‘cognitive biases’, including a very ‘negative view of themselves, the world, and the future’ (Beck, 1967). Parents and professionals working with teenagers who are depressed have to fight against those biases, so encouragement for even small activities can help with this.

Encouragement in Many Forms

Encouragement can come in many forms, and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for someone. However, the important thing is to be positive about every behaviour you see that shows the young person is trying to fight against their depression symptoms. There are some examples below of how you might encourage in verbal and non-verbal ways. We’ll be talking much more about how parents and school staff/other professionals can help later on in the course.

Verbal encouragement Non-verbal encouragement
Well done! Paying attention
I can see how hard you tried at that Smiling
Nearly there, just keep going… Nodding
I’m really proud you kept going, I know that must have been difficult Physical affection
Can I help you in any way? Joining in with the activity

What other examples of verbal and non-verbal encouragement can you think of?

© University of Reading
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Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

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