Ask Dr. Meg: My Daughter’s Depressed. What Can I Do About It?

Depression in teens is very common, but it can’t be ignored. Dr. Meg Meeker offers actionable tips to a distressed mother whose daughter is struggling.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
October 10, 2016
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3
Minute Read

As a pediatrician, mental illness is an issue I take very seriously. The question from a reader below is one I get often. As a parent of a depressed child, you do not have to feel hopeless or helpless.


Dear Dr. Meg,

I really appreciate all your teaching, suggestions, etc., which is why I am writing. I am so torn. I’m the mom of a 19-year-old college student. She failed her first year of college. Her grades are barely above a D, and if she does not pass this semester, that means she will have been out for three semesters, and she will lose her scholarships and her medical coverage via her dad. She is trying, I think. She said she wanted more of a relationship with me and her dad than she had last year, but she is still communicating with us the same amount, if not less.

She is not into drugs, and she is under a doctor’s care for depression. I worry as she is so immature but has a good head on her shoulders. I have serious trust issues with her as she is not truthful. Her dad and I have explained that this is an issue for both of us.

If I could locate a good therapist or counselor, I know that would help me. But living in a small, military community, I haven’t been able to. I know I need help, but I have no idea how to help myself. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

It has been tough, harder than I ever dreamed. I feel I hardly have a relationship with my daughter anymore. I know I was and am a good mom, but I am at a crossroads with her. I feel the longer time goes on like this and we have no relationship, we will drift apart forever. I am sad, hurt, frustrated and angry but most of all, disappointed.

– Distressed Mom

Dear Distressed Mom,

Thank you for writing to me.  You are not alone. Many mothers have suffered with troubled teens just like you are now. I have amazing readers, many who are reading this right now, and they will pray for you.

I know little of the details of your situation but from what I can glean, it sounds as though your daughter is really depressed, and you may be as well. Let me give you a peek into your daughter’s mind and heart. (I can do this because I’ve talked hours and hours with teens just like her.) Depression is a serious illness and one of the things that it does is “talk” to its victims. Those with depression have constant thoughts telling them that they are stupid, ugly, unloved and that people would be happier if they weren’t around. I’m sure these thoughts reel in your daughter’s mind.

Here’s what she’s probably thinking:

She believes she is a failure and knows she has let you and her father down. Because of her failure, she feels tremendous shame. This shame makes her want to withdraw from you, not because of anything you have done. She also feels isolated, lonely and afraid. She may not look like this, but young women with depression feel this way. Finally, she feels that you don’t want her anymore. This may surprise you because you probably tell her that you love her and want a better relationship. But remember, she doesn’t hear you when you say kind things because she sees herself and the world through very dark glasses.

So, the question is, what can you do?

1. First, do NOT take her behavior personally.

She isn’t trying to be mean to you, and she doesn’t feel good when she withdraws. She does this because depression tells her to. When you look at her, always remember that you are not responsible for her depression, her bad grades or any other choices that she makes now. She’s almost fully grown. Once you quit feeling like a failure yourself, you will relate to her much better. Right now, all you see in her is your own failure and you must stop thinking this way.

2. You must erase another thought from your mind: that you are going to lose her forever.

My friend, you are far from that point. You have a depressed daughter who is immature (you say) and hasn’t a clue what to do with her life. She needs you and wants you but she won’t say it! I know this because you said that she has a good head on her shoulders. So take a deep breath and wait. The story of your mother-daughter relationship hasn’t been fully told – so be patient.

3. You must be strong for her.

You need to see your doctor and talk to him or her about treatment for you. Counselors can help if they are good, so if you aren’t having luck finding a good one, ask your doctor or a close friend. Once you begin to feel healthier, then you will be in a better position to help her.

She needs you to listen, not criticize, not blame yourself or her for her failures. And she needs to see that no matter what she goes through, you will be by her side. No matter what. Make sure that she knows that you love her so much, she can’t drive you away.

Now is the time to love her, listen to her and not say much. Talking too much to a hurting person makes things worse, so quit using so many words. And always remember to pray for her.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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