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Seasonal Depression & Your Teens, Is It “Just” All in Their Head?

Teenage Boy“Tis the season to be Jolly,” right? Well, maybe not so much. Just seeing all the Christmas decorations in the stores before Halloween even arrives can be depressing in and of itself. Think about your own amount of stress when the holidays are approaching. There’s all the parties, gifts that need to be bought, the house that needs to be cleaned, and childcare when the kids are on break. That list for us as parents can go on and on.

On the other hand, think about what might be going on in your the mind of your teenagers. “We never go anywhere for vacation, my family can’t even afford a staycation, much less a vacation. I know I will never get the latest iPhone like my friends. What will Christmas be like this year now that mom and dad are divorced? I’m going to be stuck at the house doing nothing the entire break. It doesn’t seem fair that my cousins always get the good stuff for Christmas…” WOW! I bet their list could be a mile long.

It’s easy, as parents, to dismiss the behavior of teens, thinking it is just all in their head. And guess what? It actually is. Teens, like adults, can easily learn how to hide their true state of mind. Check out some of the signs so you will be aware of what depression might look like in your teen.

It Really Isn’t All in Their Head

When we think of adolescents being moody, over-reactive, or on an emotional roller coaster, these are very real experiences for them. Studies show that adults interpret facial expressions using the cortical region of the brain while adolescents interpret faces using their amygdala. In other words, they perceive everything straight from their emotions.

Gratitude is the antidote for misery. When you are counting your blessings,
You are too busy to be counting your problems.”
~Miya Yamanouchi

Remember, everything that is going on in your teens’ mind seems and feels very real to them, even magnified greatly. Check out the following tips on how to help manage not only your teens’ seasonal depression but yours as well.

  1. Manage your own emotions: Parents set the stage when it comes to expectations regarding the holidays. The attitudes you have can be “caught” by your children. What kind of attitude do you want them to catch?
  2. Start a discussion: Let your teens tell you how they feel regardless of how big or small. Don’t interrupt them. Let them get it all out and be sure they have your full attention.
  3. Validate: As an adult, doesn’t it feel awesome when your feelings are validated? You can easily validate their feelings just by acknowledging them. So, let them know you hear what they are saying and that you care. Maybe even repeat some of what they have said back to them so they know you were really listening. It will make them feel so much better.
  4. Traditions: Come up with a new tradition. This is a great way to build strong family relationships that can go on for generations. Traditions give us a strong sense of belonging.I have a tool that I have used for many years that is wonderful. It is called a “Thanksgiving Jar.” What you do is get a mason jar. Have it ready for Thanksgiving Day. This is something you will do every year following and it will be awesome! Take turns writing down on a small piece of paper what each person is grateful for. Fold the paper in half and put it in the jar. Put the jar where it will be seen every day. Now, starting the day after Thanksgiving, anytime something great happens and all throughout the year, write it down, fold it up and put it in the jar. Next year, on Thanksgiving Day, get the jar and take turns pulling out a piece of paper and read it out loud. This will be a fantastic tradition that is not only fun but reminds you of all the many things you have, to be grateful for.
  5. Volunteer: One of my very favorite things to do on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day is to volunteer to feed & clothe the homeless. The tradition is satisfying every year, but especially when funds are low. It is such an amazing experience. The individuals and families served are so thankful. We hand out gifts as well on Christmas Day. There is nothing like seeing the little kids’ eyes light up when they are opening their gifts. For a lot of them, it is the only gift they will receive.

Do you have ideas on how you deal with your teens’ struggling with seasonal depression? Please comment below and share it with others! As you know, since parenting doesn’t come with any instructions, we can use all the help we can get.

Seasonal Depression & Your Teens, Is It “Just” All in Their Head?

Kelley McElreath

I help people who have gone through more than their fair share of tragedies, depression, suicidal thoughts and tendencies and attempted suicides. I myself have survived a lifetime of tragedies. To name a few, I have lost two children, both parents, breast cancer, double mastectomy, chemo, two reconstruction surgeries, divorce after almost 20 years and an almost successful suicide attempt. For more information visit or write

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APA Reference
McElreath, K. (2018). Seasonal Depression & Your Teens, Is It “Just” All in Their Head?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Nov 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.