Depression in Children

Condition

About Depression in Childhood & Adolescence

You’ve noticed your child is more withdrawn. He or she loses interest in enjoyable activities, preferring to spend time alone. Your child seems more irritable or sad than usual, and grades are starting to slip. These behaviors can signal childhood depression, so it’s important to share them with your child’s Mercy pediatrician or primary care physician.

Nearly 2 million U.S. children ages 2-17 have been diagnosed with depression – a mood disorder that causes persistent sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest, irritability and other symptoms that interfere with daily life. At Mercy, we offer treatment with compassion, dignity and respect to help your child overcome the challenges of depression and restore a healthy emotional balance.

If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, talk with your Mercy pediatrician about the next steps. Your child may be referred to a Mercy behavioral health specialist for evaluation.


Signs & Symptoms of Depression in Children

Behaviors often seen in children with depression can be different from adults. If your child has one or more of these symptoms for at least two weeks, it’s time to talk with your Mercy pediatrician:

  • Changes in grades and difficulties in school
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of guilt
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches or other physical symptoms
  • Low energy and motivation
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Sad, tearful and overly sensitive for little or no reason
  • Withdrawn from friends and prefers to be alone
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Irritable and easy to anger
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

Childhood Depression Causes & Risk Factors

While the exact causes of childhood depression are unknown, research shows several factors that may put children at higher risk of developing depression. Factors that increase a child’s risk of developing depression include:

  • Gender – During adolescence, girls are almost twice as likely to be depressed as boys. And girls are more likely to continue experiencing depression as adults.
  • Family history – Having a family history of depression or other mood disorders increases the risk of developing depression at a young age.
  • Brain chemistry – The brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine are involved with many body functions, including mood and emotion. Imbalances in these chemicals can cause depression.
  • Physical health – Children who have chronic illnesses are at higher risk of developing depression.
  • Stress or trauma – Stressful events such as loss, abuse, neglect, moving, changing schools, bullying and other experiences can raise depression risk in children.

Childhood Depression Screening

Early diagnosis and intervention are critical for providing help to kids who have depression. Left untreated, it can worsen and become severe, increasing the risk of suicide. Mercy’s behavioral health specialists can help you find out if your child has depression. You and your child will talk about symptoms, how often they happen and how they affect daily life. You’ll also discuss your family’s mental health history, relationships, and any traumas or losses you’ve experienced.

Treating Depression in Children

Early diagnosis and intervention are critical for providing help to kids who have depression. Left untreated, it can worsen and become severe, increasing the risk of suicide. Mercy’s behavioral health specialists can help you find out if your child has depression. You and your child will talk about symptoms, how often they happen and how they affect daily life. You’ll also discuss your family’s mental health history, relationships, and any traumas or losses you’ve experienced.

Therapy Options

Therapy allows children to talk about stressors and learn how to manage their emotions, feelings and behaviors.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often helpful for kids with depression. CBT gives kids tools for managing their negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Play therapy also helps younger children express their feelings, communicate openly and solve problems through play.

Medication Options

Antidepressant medications can help relieve the symptoms of depression in some children and adolescents. Antidepressants increase levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, which help regulate mood.

Several types of antidepressants have been approved by the FDA for treating depression in children. Your child’s Mercy pediatrician or behavioral health professional will discuss medication options (if appropriate for your child), including the benefits and risks.

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