Authors: Davy Guo, Psychologist,

 with Sam Lu and Alison Fung

Click here to read about what depression is and how to spot the signs.

A child’s teenage years are an unstable and turbulent period, with changes happening in their social environment, brain chemistry, and cognitive patterns. Adolescents are carving out a new identity separate from their family and creating new identities and bonds with those in their peer groups, while at the same time facing a changing set of expectations from society.

The adolescent brain is undergoing big changes and hormones are unstable. Because of that, adolescents are still cognitively immature and easily affected by external factors while struggling with unstable belief systems. This leaves them especially vulnerable to falling into the vicious cycles that lead to depression.

Therefore, in the midst of these changes, it’s also a good time to lay down the foundations for the development of healthy cognitive behavior by establishing a nurturing learning and family environment.

How to Beat and Prevent Depression

To beat or prevent depression, we must address the underlying issues at each level: environmental, biochemical, cognitive, and behavioral. This cannot be accomplished by any individual on their own; it requires a supportive and nurturing social environment.

On the biochemical level, medication is the most obvious solution. However, there are less invasive ways to rebalance brain chemistry. On a behavioral level, taking up moderate exercise, as well as practising mindfulness and meditation, can help to reduce cortisol levels. A balanced brain chemistry can help teens get back to neutral or be less susceptible to a biochemical vicious cycle. But unless the root cause in the environment or cognitive patterns is addressed, depression will not go away with just these changes.

On the cognitive level, teachers and caregivers can communicate and listen to teens while teaching teenagers healthy thought patterns to cope with external stress. If you recognize signs of depression in a teen’s thinking, talk things through with them and provide emotional support from a place of acceptance. However, if they are deeply struggling with depression, it may be best to refer professional help, such as cognitive therapy. When teenagers have the right support to reorient their thinking patterns, they will be much more successful in breaking out of their cognitive vicious cycle.

Oftentimes, the root cause of depression lies in a teen’s environment. An unhealthy social environment or family life, as well as harmful parenting practises, can severely affect a teen’s thought processes and brain chemistry. A permanent change in environment or circumstance is sometimes needed to lift a teen out of depression. It requires guardians, educators, and peers to be proactive in creating the safe and supportive conditions necessary for a teen’s recovery from depression. This can look like more academic support from teachers, providing alternative living arrangements that allow a teen to feel safe, stronger emotional support from family and friends, caregivers learning healthy parenting practises, or a promotion of inclusive social behavior amongst students.

An individual is not responsible for falling into depression, and it is not impossible to escape or prevent it. It is important for everyone, peers, family, and educators, to pay attention and catch the symptoms of depression in those around them and address the root causes before it becomes serious. It requires a community to work together to cultivate a healthy environment that addresses these vicious cycles at their root.

Contact ELG for support with mental health, parenting, and child protection at 4006 129 423, +86 21 5206 6273, or [email protected]

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, Lifeline Shanghai is available in English from 10 am – 10 pm every day. Call (021) 6279 8990 or visit for live chat and WeChat support information. 

For support in Chinese, the Psychological National Line can be reached at 12320 and Hopeline is 400 161 9995.