Depression and COVID

Depression in Children

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We understand it can feel overwhelming and upsetting when a child faces depression. It is important to know that depression is a treatable medical condition and that there are steps you can take to help your child overcome and cope with their depression.

If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1.
To reach the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741-741 or visit
To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 9-8-8 or visit

What is Depression?

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.

Intensive Outpatient Therapy Program for Teens

Three teens looking seriousCHOC offers teenagers experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition a new source of hope in a validating, supportive environment staffed by experts in adolescent mental health. The Intensive Outpatient Therapy Program for teens at CHOC brings solutions to teens and their families who show moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health problems.

High-school aged teens attend after-school programming for three hours a day, four days a week in sessions that span eight weeks total. Get more information about the CHOC mental health Intensive Outpatient Program.

What to do if your child experiences depression or anxiety during COVID-19

These past months have been challenging for so many children, adolescents and their families. The pressures of a pandemic, economic disruptions and many other uncertainties have increased feelings of anxiety and depression in children and many others.

Below are activities and other strategies to help lift the mood of children and adolescents – and may work for parents, too. Continue to follow CHOC for more ways to manage feelings of depression, including a wide variety of suggestions as different activities may work for different children.

While these can help your child cope with milder feelings of depression, if your child has persistent feelings of depression for most days over two weeks, and is having trouble with sleep, eating, ongoing fatigue or loss of interest in fun activities, please seek out the assistance of a mental health provider or your pediatrician. If your child (or you) have ongoing thoughts of hurting themselves, please seek help immediately by calling the mobile CAT team (1-866-830-6011), call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency department. You can also contact the California Youth Crisis Hotline (1-800-843-5200) or Suicide Prevention Center (1-800-784-2433).