Depression in children and adolescents



What is depression in children and adolescents?

Depression is a serious mood disorder that can take the joy from a child’s life. It is normal for a child to be moody or sad from time to time. You can expect these feelings after the death of a pet or a move to a new city. But if these feelings last for weeks or months, they may be a sign of depression.

Experts used to think that only adults could get depression. Now we know that even a young child can have depression that needs treatment to improve.

How common is depression in children and adolescents?

As many as 2 out of 100 young children and 8 out of 100 teens have serious depression. It can be managed by reducing risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of depression in children and adolescents?

Depression’s symptoms differ at each developmental stage.

Symptoms in young children may include:

Symptoms in older pre-adolescents and adolescents may include:

  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Isolation
  • Hopelessness
  • Reduced social interactions
  • Intense sensitivity to rejection
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleep disturbance (either reduced or increased sleep) (Note: if you are concerned about your child’s sleep, Click here for a simple quiz that can help you determine whether your child’s current sleep patterns may be causing problems.)
  • Changes in appetite (either reduced or increased) or eating habits
  • Reduced energy
  • Academic decline
  • Conflict with authority
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Thoughts of suicide

Young people of all ages may also experience physical symptoms that cannot be attributed to other medical conditions, including headaches or stomachaches.  These too may be signs of depression.

In the most severe forms of depression, young people may experience distortions of reality, such as hallucinations or delusions. Finally, suicide in young people is closely linked to depression. Most children who attempt or contemplate suicide suffer from depression, making prompt attention to the symptoms of depression critical.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes depression in children and adolescents?

Just what causes depression is not well understood.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for depression in children and adolescents?

Depression in children and adolescents is linked to a problem with activity levels in certain parts of the brain as well as an imbalance of brain chemicals that affect mood. Things that may cause these problems include:

  • Stressful events, such as changing schools, going through a divorce, or losing a close family member or friend.
  • Some medicines, such as steroids or narcotics for pain relief.
  • Family history. In some children, depression seems to be inherited.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is depression in children and adolescents diagnosed?

To diagnose depression, a doctor may do a physical exam and ask questions about your child’s past health. You and your child may be asked to fill out a form about your child’s symptoms. The doctor may ask your child questions to learn more about how he or she thinks, acts, and feels.

Some diseases can cause symptoms that look like depression. So the child may have tests to help rule out physical problems, such as a low thyroid level or anemia.

It is common for children with depression to have other problems too, such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an eating disorder. The doctor may ask questions about these problems to help your child get the right diagnosis and treatment.

How is depression in children and adolescents treated?

Usually one of the first steps in treating depression is education for the child and his or her family. Teaching both the child and the family about depression can be a big help. It makes them less likely to blame themselves for the problem. Sometimes it can help other family members see that they are also depressed.

Counseling may help the child feel better. The type of counseling will depend on the age of the child. For young children, play therapy may be best. Older children and teens may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of counseling can help them change negative thoughts that make them feel bad.

Medicine may be an option if the child is very depressed. Combining antidepressant medicine with counseling often works best. A child with severe depression may need to be treated in the hospital.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage depression in children and adolescents?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with depression in children and adolescents:

  • Encourage your child to get regular exercise, spend time with supportive friends, eat healthy foods, and get enough sleep.
  • See that your child takes any medicine as prescribed and goes to all follow-up appointments.
  • Make time to talk and listen to your child. Ask how he or she is feeling. Express your love and support.
  • Remind your child that things will get better in time.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 1, 2017 | Last Modified: November 1, 2017