What You Need to Know About Childhood Depression

Spotting the signs and symptoms

Although most people think of depression as an adult illness, children and adolescents can develop depression as well. Unfortunately, many children with depression go untreated because adults don't recognize they're depressed.  

It's important for parents, teachers, and other adults to learn about childhood depression. When you understand the symptoms of depression and the reasons children develop it, you can intervene in a helpful manner.

facts about childhood depression
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Children Are Not Immune to Depression

Sometimes adults assume kids shouldn't be depressed since they don't have to worry about adult issues, like paying bills or running a household.

But kids experience stress too. And even children who live relatively stress-free lives may develop depression. 

Children who are raised in good homes with loving parents can become depressed. 

Depression in Children Looks Different

While adults with depression tend to look sad, children and teens with depression may look more irritable and angry.

You might see changes in behavior, such as increased defiance or a decline in grades at school.

Signs of Depression in Children and Teens

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Defiant attitude
  • Declining grades
  • Physical complaints (stomach ache, headache)

Your child might insist that he's fine or he may deny that he's experiencing any problems. Many parents pass off the irritability as a phase or they assume it's part of normal development. But, irritability that lasts longer than two weeks may be a sign of depression.

Some children with depression often have physical complaints. They may report more stomachaches and headaches than their peers. 

Children May Resist Talking About Mental Health

Younger children often lack the language skills to verbalize their mood. They may not be able to describe how they're feeling or what they're experiencing. 

Older children who have a better understanding of what depression means may feel embarrassed or they may worry that they're different.

It's usually best not to ask lots of questions. Instead, keep a diary that tracks the changes in mood or behavior that you're seeing. Then, you'll have a clear record to show a physician so you can address your concerns.

You Have Treatment Options

Sometimes parents fear that depression treatment will involve heavy-duty medications. But, medication isn't always needed to treat depression. Talk therapy may be another option. 

Ultimately, it's up to the guardians to decide what treatment options they want to employ. It's important for parents and children to educate themselves about treatment and the potential risks and benefits of each option. 

If you suspect your child is depressed, the pediatrician is a good place to start. Schedule an appointment with the physician and talk about your concerns.

The pediatrician can rule out potential physical health issues that may be contributing to the symptoms you are seeing. If warranted, your child may be referred to a mental health professional. 

Depression Isn't a Sign of Weakness

Anyone can develop depression and it isn't a sign of weakness. It also isn't your fault if your child is depressed. 

While stressful life events, like divorce, may contribute to depression, it's only a small piece of the puzzle. Many other factors, including genetics, also play a role. 

You Can Be Proactive About Your Child's Mental Health

You can't always prevent depression in children. But, you can take steps to proactively improve your child's mental health, regardless of whether she has a mental health issue.

Talk about how caring for her body also helps her mind. Eating nutritious food, getting plenty of exercise, and sleeping the recommended number of hours each night is good for her mental health.

Help your child develop a rich social life without over-scheduling her time. Assign responsibilities and reward her for being responsible. 

Teach her how to solve problems, manage her emotions in healthy ways, and develop strategies that will help her cope with failure and setbacks. Talk about your mental health too and make staying healthy a priority in your family. 

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