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Depression in Children and Teens

depression in childrenDepression is one of the most common disorders in the United States and rates among children and teens have been rising in recent years.  

There are numerous effective treatment options for children and teens with depression, but recognizing the signs and seeking the appropriate help when needed is the first step. 

Definition

Depression is different than sadness.  Sadness, even deep sadness can occur normally in children, especially related to stress and grief. 

Depression is a mood disorder that causes sadness to be more intense and/or last longer than usual.   It can occur with or without a triggering event. 

The two most common types of depression in children and teens are Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder. 

  • Major Depressive Disorder typically involves multiple depressive symptoms on most days over a period of at least 2 weeks and often causes significant difficulty managing everyday life.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder typically involves symptoms that last longer than 1 year but are less severe. 

It can sometimes be difficult to detect depression in children and teens.  A child may have difficulty describing what they are feeling.  Older children and teens may even try to hide their symptoms.

Common Signs of Depression in Children and Teens

It is important to note that these signs can also occur in any child that is not depressed, but when seen together or every day for more than 2 weeks, they should raise suspicion for possible depression. 

Children and Teens:

  • Seeming sadder and more irritable than usual.
  • Seeming to be in a “low” mood most of the day.
  • No longer enjoying or participating in activities that used to make them happy.
  • Spending increased time alone, or less time with friends.
  • Changes in sleep (sleeping more, or difficulty falling or staying asleep).
  • Difficulty focusing.
  • Struggling in school.
  • Rapid or marked weight gain or loss.
  • Talking less, lack of eye contact.
  • Decreased energy or motivation for common or simple tasks (homework, chores, etc).
  • Frequent or increased crying.
  • Discusses feeling sad, worthless, or guilty about things.
  • Feeling like everything is their fault or they aren’t good at anything.
  • Frequent headache or stomach aches 

Teens and Adolescents:

  • Disinterested or lack of hope for the future.
  • Decreased or lack of interest in personal appearance or hygiene.
  • Substance use

What to do if you think your child or teen is depressed:

Talk to your child.  

It is important to talk to your child about how they are feeling.  Ask them how they are feeling or if something is bothering them.   Try to encourage them to be open about their feelings without judgement.  Children may not mention how they are feeling unprompted but will often respond honestly if asked directly. 

See your child’s doctor. 

Schedule a visit specifically for your concerns.  Your child’s physician can help determine if they are depressed and will often use clinically proven interviewing techniques and questionnaires to aid in the assessment. 

Seek immediate help If your child or teen develops any suicidal thoughts or attempts to harm themselves in any way. 

  • Emergency Department
  • Call 911
  • Call or Text 988 for the National Crisis Line
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK for the National Crisis Hotline 
  • Crisis Text Line – (Text HOME to 741741) 

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

References and Resources

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Childhood-Depression-What-Parents-Can-Do-To-Help.aspx

https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_Youth/Resource_Centers/Depression_Resource_Center/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Depression_Resource_Center/Depression_Resource_Center.aspx?hkey=79ce5cf6-19b2-411a-9663-7870b7739bd0

https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Depressed-Child-004.aspx

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