Depressed or Just Stuck? How to Help Your Adult Child Launch

Happy Kids

Part one of a two part series on helping your adult child thrive.

You did everything right. You were (and continue to be) a loving, present parent. You weren’t always perfect but you did your best. You provided your child with a safe home, food, clothes, toys and the latest clothes and electronic devices so they could “fit in” with the other kids.

So you ask yourself, “why…why…after doing everything that I was supposed to do to launch this kid…are they now lying on my couch, eating my food and mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook feed!?”


You’re probably aware that your situation is not uncommon. According to the Census Bureau, the number of Millennials living with their parents in 2015 is 15%.

As a therapist and coach for twenty-somethings I can tell you your child wants to feel like an adult. They just don’t know how to start.

At the same time, your patience is wearing thin and you don’t know how much longer you can have the same conversation with your now adult child about responsibilities and the reality of being a grown-up. If you feel like you’ve tried everything to help your kid launch, there may be something else going on.

In this two part blog series, I’m going to help you determine what is going on with your child; are they lacking motivation, are they stuck or are they potentially clinically depressed.

In Part 1, I’m going to help you understand if your child needs a “good kick in the pants” or if they are struggling with something more serious. I’ll give you the steps you need to take to help your child through this transition.

In Part 2, we’re going to look at today’s world and how the impact of social media has affected the average twenty-somethings ability to make decisions, feel good about themselves and understand that fear is a normal part of life.


If your once vivacious happy kid is now sleeping all the time, seems listless and can’t seem to remember to do the one thing you asked them to do that day, this question may be a the forefront of your mind these days.

As a therapist, I often have to identify and diagnose individuals with depression, I too struggle with the question of, “is this person clinically depressed or is something else going on?” First let’s start with the formal diagnosis of depression.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the diagnostic criteria to be formally diagnosed with Major Depression is, “five or more of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2 week period and represent a chance from previous functioning: at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.”

Here is the list of symptoms:

Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day
Weight loss or decreased appetite; or the opposite weight gain or increased appetite
Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Fatigue and decreased energy
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
Recurrent thoughts of death, thoughts of suicide

There are certainly days when we all experience one or more symptoms of depression for various reasons. Life is hard. It can be overwhelming and stressful one day and the next day you wake up feeling more hopeful. Being unemployed creates feelings of worthlessness and can make the motivated and upbeat person feel helpless.

This is why identifying and understanding depression is so difficult.

The key factor is whether or not your child has lost interest and pleasure in activities that they once loved and whether or not their mood fluctuates or simply remains depressed, sad, and they talk about feeling hopeless.

When you’re depressed you feel like your drowning and can’t see the water’s surface. That’s the level of sadness and unhappiness that you need to be looking for.


If your child has been showing most of these symptoms, every day for more than 2 weeks straight, then you need to have a serious talk with them about seeking professional help. Your child needs to see a therapist and/or a psychiatrist now, especially if your child is expressing thoughts of harming self or talking about death.

1) Help your child explore their options. Ask if they need your help finding the right therapist. Explore the option of group therapy or possibly meeting with a psychiatrist regarding medication.

2) Therapy and medication are only one piece of the puzzle. They may also need support and guidance in learning how to improve their daily lives. Talk with your child about what you can do to support them. Does it help when you invite them out for a walk? Would they rather you give them space and let them figure it out.

3) Talk about the short-term and long-term plan. If your child is struggling with severe depression it may be hard for them, in the short-term to look for a job. What is a short-term plan that allows your child enough time to start to feel better and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re child may never launch. 

4) You still need to set some perimeters so your child can launch. If you’re going to support your child during this time then you and your child need to agree on what is expected of your child as they begin to tackle their depression. Whatever treatment plan you decided on, they need to keep their end of the deal. They need to go therapy weekly, attend any groups they enrolled in, take their medication as prescribed and that they need to work on improving their depression on a daily basis.


If your child is exhibiting the symptoms of low energy, fatigue and they’re always sleeping late but they still hang out with their friends and love the same hobbies and activities.

Well, this may be laziness. That was a tough sentence for me to write. I wrote it, rewrote it and then just decided I had to state the truth. This is hard to talk about because “laziness” is a judgment and I’m not here to judge you or your kid.

While the DSM doesn’t have a specific diagnosis for “laziness” here are some symptoms to look for:

Sleeps too much
Inability to make decisions
Avoids responsibilities
Interested in only activities that are immediate and pleasurable (playing video games, watching movies or TV)
Lack of motivation, not willing to change current state
Expresses a lot of fear about the future
Not helping around the house, reverting back to teenage years

If this is your child, then do not despair and try not to judge. We all go through periods of “laziness” in our lives.

My guess is that your child has had enough time to “relax” and it’s time to get moving. Your child is unable to produce the internal motivation needed to get a job or find a job that will allow them to move out of the house.


1) This is the time to set some boundaries. If you do not have an agreement between you and your child regarding how long you will be supporting them, then you need one immediately. You must set firm boundaries on how long you will be supporting them financially.

2) If he/she is working part-time and earning any money they need to contribute to the household. You need to start charging them rent. It doesn’t have to be much, come up with a figure that feels fair to both. (You can always take the money, put it in a savings account and your child can use it as first/last/security for an apartment.)

3) Your child needs to be doing chores and kept accountable. No excuses.

4) You can help your child gain motivation.  Your child doesn’t want to be lazy, they want to be doing more but they don’t know how to manage their life now that they are out of school and there are no more deadlines. Strategize with your child about the best way you can support them. Help them create an action plan to look for a job, help them set daily goals and create more structure in their days.

So what if your child is not depressed and they’re definitely not unmotivated, but they are still at home with you and you don’t know how to help them? There’s something else going on and it’s got to do with today’s climate and being a twenty-something is harder today than ever before.

Stay tuned for Part 2! 

Looking for more tools to help your adult child launch? Download your FREE checklist here. 

Tess Brigham, MFT is a licensed therapist and coaching. She specializes in working with twenty-somethings navigating the years from ages 20-30, especially those going through the dreaded “quarter-life crisis.” In addition, she helps the parents of twenty-somethings who are struggling to launch. Check out her website at www.tessbrigham.com. If you want to speak with her further about launching your twenty-something, click here.

This article was originally published at Abby Medcalf Thriving . Reprinted with permission from the author.