Are Low Self-Esteem and Depression the Same Thing?

Tips to Boost Your Child's Low Self-Esteem

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Given the clear association between low self-esteem and depression risk, many researchers have questioned whether or not depression and self-esteem are actually the same concept.

Both self-esteem and depression are thought to work on a sort of continuum, or scale, ranging from high to low self-esteem, and no depressive symptoms to debilitating depressive symptoms.


Self-esteem is the way you view yourself, flaws, positive characteristics and all. It's developed by your experiences, thoughts, feelings, and relationships. If your child has low self-esteem, she will generally view herself as highly flawed, think little of her own ideas and opinions and worry that she isn't good enough. He also might struggle to accept positive feedback and see everyone around him as better than he is.

Depression is much more than just feeling sad. It saps your energy, makes everyday activities difficult and interferes with your eating and sleeping patterns. Psychotherapy and/or medication are highly effective in treating depression. There are several types of depressive disorders, including major depression, persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 


Low self-esteem and depression share many of the same signs and symptoms, including:

  • Reckless behavior
  • Sexual risk-taking
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Social withdrawal and avoidance
  • Academic decline
  • Aggressive behavior (anger, violence)
  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships
  • Self-consciousness


Despite the obvious similarities between self-esteem and depression, research supports the view that they are, in fact, separate and different concepts.

In a review of studies, researchers found identifiable differences between self-esteem and depression. They reported that self-esteem remains fairly stable, or unchanged, over a lifetime, while depression is naturally unstable, or constantly changing, from day-to-day and year-to-year.

Despite the similarities, it is more likely that low self-esteem is a risk factor for depression in children, rather than that they are the same concepts, the researchers concluded.

Preventing Depression in Children

While a child with low self-esteem may be at risk for a depressive episode, it does not necessarily mean she is currently depressed. This key finding gives you a unique opportunity to seek early preventative treatment for your child. Preventative treatments have been shown to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in children who are at risk for depression.

If your child shows signs of low self-esteem or depression, talk to her pediatrician or other mental health professionals for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment options.

How to Boost Your Child's Self-Esteem

  • Give her choices. Making her own decisions boosts her confidence, but having too many decisions can be overwhelming, so do this judiciously. 
  • Let him know you love him. Does he seem to respond best to hugs, words of encouragement, a token of gratitude, a home-cooked meal or time alone with you? Figure out what makes him feel loved the most and make sure you show your love frequently.
  • Encourage communication. Talking to her about what's going on in her life shows her she's a valuable, interesting person who is worthy of your time. 
  • Be a good listener. Even if you don't love what your child is telling you, try to remember how you felt when you were his age and respond how you would have wanted an adult to respond to you. Putting yourself in your child's shoes can help you keep perspective and encourage him to come back with problems, questions or just needing to vent.
  • Support and encourage her strengths. If she's good at basketball, be her biggest cheerleader. If she shows an aptitude for music, get her those guitar lessons she has been wanting. 
  • Be kind. Children, even more so than adults, do not respond well to anger, criticism, and hostility. Choose your words carefully.
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Article Sources

  • "Depression." National Institute of Mental Health (2016).
  • "Self-esteem check: Too low or just right?" Mayo Clinic (2014).
  • Jonathon D. Brown. The Self. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1998
  • Linda J. Koenig, Ph.D.; Lynda S. Doll, Ph.D.; Ann O'Leary, Ph.D.; and Willo Pequegnat, Ph.D. From Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Sexual Risk: Trauma, Revictimization, and Intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2003.
  • Ulrich Orth, Richard W. Robins, Brent W. Roberts. Low Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Depression in Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2008; 95(3): 695-708.