Depression is more than just a bad mood—it is a period(s) of irritability, intense hopelessness, anger or frustration that can last for weeks, months or longer. These feelings can make it difficult for children and teens to function as they normally would, to get through the day or to find joy in things they usually enjoy. It is important to talk to your child and let them know that it is ok to feel this way and ok to seek guidance from a medical professional.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
Symptoms and signs of depression vary by age and by person and can look different in children than in adults. At least one of the following primary symptoms of depression is always present:
- Irritability, sadness or hopelessness most of the day, nearly every day
- Decreased interest or pleasure in activities that your child usually enjoys
The following secondary symptoms of depression may also be present in your child:
- Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping more than normal
- Feeling very tired or having little energy
- Feeling worthless or very guilty
- Having trouble concentrating
- Thinking about dying or suicide
- Changes in appetite
- Observable patterns of abnormally slow or fast movement
How is Depression Diagnosed?
Depression can occur at any age, but symptoms commonly begin during the teen or young adult years. Diagnosis by a medical professional can include a physical exam (to rule out other causes of low mood), lab tests (e.g., thyroid issues) or evaluation by a mental health professional. Often, talking with your child to understand how they are feeling and why they may be feeling depressed is a useful first step.
How is depression treated in children?
Childhood depression is usually treated with psychotherapy (most commonly cognitive behavioral therapy), medication or a combination of the two. Your child’s mental health professional will help you determine what treatment, or combination of treatments, is best for your child.
Childhood depression and illness
Many health conditions, like epilepsy, cancer, diabetes or other chronic illnesses, can increase the risk of childhood depression. Our pediatric psychologists at CHOC are part of the care teams for CHOC’s many treatment programs, both inpatient and outpatient. That means both a child’s physical and mental health needs are always being met.
What should I do if I think my child is depressed?
The most important step a parent can take is to talk to their child’s pediatrician. Symptoms of depression can be serious and should never be ignored. It is important that you and your child are open with the pediatrician about all signs and symptoms present so that they can help you find the best course of treatment.