Childhood Depression FAQs

Find out more about childhood depression and ways to support your child.

If you think your child may be depressed, contact your Mercy pediatrician right away. Depending on your child’s symptoms, you may be referred to a Mercy behavioral health specialist for evaluation.

How can I help a child with depression?

Here are a few ways you can support a child who struggles with depression:

  • Spot the signs – Watch for major and concerning changes in your child’s mood, school performance, activities, eating and sleeping patterns. If you notice issues lasting more than two weeks, talk with your child’s Mercy provider.
  • Seek help – Never ignore symptoms of depression in your child. Contact your Mercy pediatrician or behavioral health specialist to discuss what’s happening with your child and what action to take next.
  • Show support – Spend quality time with your child, communicate openly, be a good listener, and acknowledge the challenges your child faces.
  • Be healthy – Adopt a healthy lifestyle, and encourage your child to get regular exercise, eat healthy foods and form good sleep habits.
  • Encourage social connections – Offer ideas for social activities, organize sleepovers or plan family gatherings to help your child feel connected.

Can childhood trauma cause depression later in life?

Yes. Children who experience severe stress from events like accidents, natural disasters, the death of a loved one, abuse, violence or other traumas may be affected long-term. Experiencing these events directly or witnessing them can lead to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental or physical health conditions. Talk with your Mercy provider about any traumas your child has experienced.

How do you talk to a depressed child?

Even if it’s challenging, communication is crucial when your child is depressed. Focus on listening to your child without interruption, and try to understand what they’re going through. Repeat what your child says to show you’ve heard, and empathize with their feelings (e.g., “I can see how much this hurts you.”). And if your child finds it too difficult to talk, just sitting with them lets them know you care.

How do you treat childhood depression?

Treatment options for children with depression may include talk therapy, medication or a combination of both. Mercy’s behavioral health specialists offer a full range of treatments and personalized plans to help children manage depression and thrive.

Is an only child more likely to be depressed?

Available research shows kids without siblings don’t have a higher risk of depression. One study found that only children may actually be happier than kids with siblings. Another found teens who have siblings were up to twice as likely to have depression. 

What does depression look like in a child?

Children with depression often show the following signs and symptoms: 

  • 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
  • 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

Why do kids get depressed?

Exact causes of childhood depression are unknown, but experts believe several factors may contribute to it. Girls are more likely than boys to develop depression, and having a family history of the condition raises the risk for all kids. Imbalances in brain chemistry, having a chronic illness and experiencing trauma may also lead to childhood depression.

How do you know if your child has depression?

Childhood depression is more than an occasional bout of sadness. It’s a serious condition that causes persistent sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest, irritability and other symptoms. If your child experiences one or more of these symptoms for at least two weeks, contact your child’s Mercy pediatrician right away. You may also be referred to a Mercy behavioral health specialist who can evaluate your child and determine if it’s depression.

Find a Behavioral Health Clinic

Mercy offers specialized care for pediatric mental health.

Find a behavioral health clinic near you.