Childhood depression can manifest as persistent sadness or negative emotions and behaviors that disrupt normal social activities, school performance, family relationships and more. Signs of depression can include irritability or anger, continuous feelings of sadness or hopelessness, social withdrawal, changes in appetite and sleep, frequent outbursts or crying, fatigue or low energy, impaired concentration or thinking, physical complaints unrelated to injury or illness and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Tests & Diagnosis
If you’ve noticed depression symptoms in your child for more than two weeks, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with his or her doctor. Your child’s doctor or therapist will ask you and your child questions about depression symptoms, including negative feelings, changes in habits—including change in peer group or change in school performance-- and recent events in your child’s life. The diagnosis of depression is based on an interview with the child and the parents. Some clinicians will also use questionnaires related to these symptoms. The doctor will also conduct a medical examination to rule out physical problems.
If your child is diagnosed with depression, psychotherapy (counseling to help with emotions and behavior) and – in some cases – prescription antidepressants can help.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, your child’s doctor may suggest trying an evidence-based psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy) alone at first and prescribing medication if there is no significant improvement. The combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication has been found to be effective in those with higher levels of symptom severity. In addition, some evidence exists that sequencing these treatments (starting with medication until improvement is shown and then adding in CBT) may reduce rates of relapse in youth with depression.
You can help by encouraging healthy behaviors like adequate sleep, a nutritious diet and physical activity; helping your child relax with creative and fun activities; listening to your child’s worries and acknowledging his or her feelings with understanding and support; and following your child’s treatment plan.
What causes depression in children?
As with adults, depression in children can be caused by a variety of factors relating to physical health, life events or stress, family history, environment, genetics and biochemical imbalance. It is not often a condition that will go away without proper treatment.
What are the warning signs of severe depression or suicidal behavior?
If you notice many depressive symptoms, social isolation, increased inappropriate behaviors, increased risky behaviors, substance abuse, or an unhealthy focus on death, dying or other morbid themes, seek treatment for your child immediately.
What other conditions can occur with, or mimic, depression?
Bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder and some other mental illnesses can occur with, or hide, depression.
How long can depression last?
Various things factor into how long it will likely take your child to recover from depression. Treatment will help your child more quickly recover from depression, so that is why early and appropriate treatment is important. Even when your child’s depression symptoms improve, continuing treatment will help them maintain wellness.
Where can I find a support group?
We will provide you with resources to help both you and your child. The Resources link on this webpage is also a good source for more information about depression and support groups.