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Communicating with a Depressed Teenager

Communication with teenagers at the best of times can be challenging. When a teenager is depressed, the situation can become even more difficult.
© University of Reading

Communication with teenagers at the best of times can be challenging. When a teenager is depressed, the situation can become even more difficult. You may be aware of the biases in thinking when someone is depressed; it becomes much more likely that the depressed person hears the things that are said to them in negative ways. This increases the likelihood of communication problems and conflict.

Conflict with a Depressed Teenager

There’s research that shows conflict with family members is higher for depressed teenagers compared with teenagers who aren’t depressed. There are also suggestions by studies that family conflict may have a further negative effect on the teenager’s depressed mood. It’s understandable that when a member of the family has depression, it often puts a lot of strain on family relationships and therefore the likelihood for conflict is much higher.

What a Depressed Teenager Hears

Below are some examples of how depression can twist what young people hear and interpret from what others say. It isn’t something that people tend to think about when they’re communicating with people who are depressed. It’s also not something that depressed young people are consciously aware of if they haven’t been taught about the thinking errors in depression.

You say They hear
‘Why are you in your room again?’ ‘You’re no fun, why can’t you be different’
‘Pick up this mess’ ‘You can’t do anything right’
‘Help me with dinner’ ‘You never help around here’
‘Have you done your homework?’ ‘You haven’t done what you’re supposed to again’
‘You haven’t seen your friends this week’ ‘You’re not trying hard enough’
‘You used to like playing tennis’ ‘You’re hopeless, you can’t even play tennis any more.’
‘What’s wrong?’ ‘There’s something wrong with you’


Communicating with Your Depressed Teenager

Can you think of any recent examples when you said something or asked your teen something, and the reaction was completely over the top and out of line with the conversation topic or request? If you can, then chances are that their depression has twisted your words, and your teen actually heard and interpreted your words in an unrealistically negative way. This isn’t your fault or theirs. Depression has a sneaky way of doing this regularly. Keeping this in mind may help you to prepare for these types of thinking errors and to respond in a calm and thoughtful way.

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

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