By Nicola Smith, October 3, 2017

Youth in foster care have often experienced traumatic family histories, including removal from their birth family, which can lead to an increased risk for mental health disorders such as depression. According to the Casey Field Office Mental Health (CFOMH) study on the lifetime mental health disorders of adolescents in foster care, these youth aged 14 to 17 experienced both major depressive disorder and a major depressive episode within the previous year at rates of 10.9%.

If your teenager has been diagnosed with depression or you’re concerned about their mental health, the steps below provide you with effective ways to care for your teen and create a safe home environment that will help them on a path to recovery.

Know the signs

There are several warning signs, often mistaken as teen angst, that could suggest your teen is struggling with deeper issues. While it can be difficult to determine if this is typical behavior for your teen, especially if the teen is new to your home, understanding the common signs of depression and monitoring for patterns as they adjust to their environment will help you understand if there is cause for concern about depression.

Some specific behavioral signs that indicate your teen may be struggling with depression include

  • Loss of interest in sports and activities they used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and social settings
  • Considerable weight loss or weight gain
  • Excessive late-night TV, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or sleeping more than usual
  • Constant self-criticism or low self-esteem
  • Poor school performance including lower than normal grades and frequent absence
  • Frequent complaints of physical pain.

If you’ve noticed changes in your teen that concern you, monitor their behavior, start an open and honest conversation with your teen explaining your concern, and contact a healthcare professional for treatment advice.

Communicate effectively and build trust

One of the most difficult parts of caring for a teen who is struggling is knowing how to effectively communicate with them to offer support and help them work toward recovery, especially if you’re a foster parent or guardian to a teen who you haven’t established trust with yet.

Building trust with your teen is fundamental to establishing a relationship that allows you and your teen to communicate effectively and be aware of what is happening in their life. This trust can take time to build; keeping communication open while being patient with your teen will show them you care without placing pressure on them to feel settled and highly communicative with you.

Remind your teen on a regular basis that they are welcome in your home and it’s a safe place for them to talk to you. You can also demonstrate how important they are to you by organizing a new experience for them to show how valued they are. Perhaps you’ve noticed a certain interest in a sporting team or hobby? Picking up on the nuances and special interests in your teen will demonstrate to them that you care and that your home is their home too.

If you’ve noticed behaviors in your teen that concern you, understanding how to effectively communicate your concerns will help you to continue building trust whilst establishing open and honest communication. The words and language you use need to be chosen carefully to ensure the lines of communication stay open.

To open a conversation, patiently explain to your teen why you are concerned and what specific behaviors are making you worried about their health. Some examples of how to start the conversation may include

  • “I’m worried about you because I noticed you have been crying a lot lately”
  • “I’m concerned because it seems you often feel angry or unhappy”
  • “I’m worried about you because you don’t do a lot of the things that you used to enjoy doing like going to the gym or seeing your friends”
  • “I’m worried about you because I’ve noticed you’re awake very late each night and don’t want to attend school the next day.”

As you may note in the examples above, the focus is on the specific behavior as the reason why you may be concerned. Keeping the focus on the behavior and not on your teen will ensure your teen doesn’t feel like they are being blamed for their behavior.

Create a caring and supportive home environment

Creating a caring and supportive home environment will help your teen feel peace in their home and give them a safe environment to recover and communicate freely.

Make sure your teen has a safe space of their own in your home and take the time to help them personalize it. Small things like letting your teen pick out the details for their room such as linens or a dedicated chill-out area and, when the opportunity arises, being able to have a photo of you together displayed in the home will help in ensuring your teen feels like they are part of the family.

Fostering a supportive and caring environment is also about more than the physical environment you and your teen create, but also about showing support to help your teen feel safe. Regularly tell your teen you are proud of them, celebrate small successes, and make sure your teen knows when they have made progress toward their goals.

Additional Resources


With a keen interest in holistic health and wellness, Nicola Smith works with heart-centred female entrepreneurs in the health and wellness industry, providing copy that engages to help grow their businesses.