Depression in Children

Your child is sleeping more than usual. Your teen is withdrawn and doesn’t spend as much time with family as before. While these signs can seem like typical teenager behavior, they also can mean depression. Depression is not restricted to adults and is very common among children and teenagers. 

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, depression is defined as an illness when the feelings of depression persist and interfere with a child’s or adolescent’s ability to function. Most of the time, fleeting blues get better after a few days.  It is when changes in mood and behavior persist that depression becomes a concern. 

The statistics on depression are staggering. According to the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services:

  • As many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents may have depression.

  • Once a young person has experienced a major depression, he or she is at risk of developing another depression within the next five years.

  • Two in three children with mental health problems do not get the help they need.

The risk of depression in children is higher when there is family history. But even if you know an adult who suffers from depression, be aware because the behavior in depressed children and teens differs from that of depressed adults. If you notice your child exhibits one or more of the below symptoms, you should talk with a doctor:

  • Sad, tearful and overly sensitive with very little to no provocation

  • Withdrawn from friends and spends more time alone

  • Changes behavior patterns and loses interest in activities that were previously interesting

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

  • Changes in grades and academic performance

  • Poor self-esteem or guilt

  • Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches

  • Lack of enthusiasm, low energy, or low motivation

  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse

While depression sometimes improves spontaneously, it also can get so severe that thoughts and talk of suicide emerge and cannot be taken lightly. Early diagnosis and intervention are important for youths with depression. If you are concerned about your child, call your pediatrician.  He or she will make the appropriate recommendations for treatment, such as referrals to a counselor or therapist for individual therapy. This will allow children to talk about their stressors and learn strategies to appropriately cope with their emotions, feelings and behavior.  It is only in extreme situations that medications may be needed.