Child and Adolescent Depression

Increasingly, students are presenting with depression type symptoms at school. These symptoms can impact a student’s mood, academic success, and physical health. If you believe your child is experiencing the symptoms below, please contact your child’s campus counselor, pediatrician, or a mental health professional. Help is available!

Mayo Clinic Parent Video 

What is depression?

Depression is a very real concern for children and teens. It can affect how a child thinks, feels and behaves. Lots of experiences growing up can lead to ups and downs. But for some children, these negative thoughts are not temporary. When that’s the case, they are a symptom of depression. About one in five teens will experience depression at some point.

Depression is often thought of as an adult illness and not always recognized when it affects children and adolescents, but depression produces persistent symptoms which interfere with their ability to live. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step towards recovery.

How common is depression in children and teens, and who is at risk?

Depression is often thought of as an adult illness and not always recognized when it affects children and teens, but depression’s persistent symptoms interfere with a young person’s success at home and school. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that approximately 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.

During childhood, the number of boys and girls affected by depression are almost equal. In adolescence, twice as many girls as boys are diagnosed. Well over one-half of depressed adolescents have a recurrence within seven years.

Children and teens who are at higher risk for depression include those who have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct, learning or anxiety disorders and oppositional defiant disorder. Experiencing considerable stress, trauma, facing a significant loss or a family history of mood disorders increases a young person’s risk.

What are the symptoms and warning signs of depression in children and teens?

Children and teens will often express depression differently than adults. If one or more of these signs persist, parents should seek professional help:

  • Difficulty with relationships.
  • Increased irritability, anger or hostility.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure.
  • Low self-esteem and guilt.
  • Social isolation, poor communication.
  • Persistent boredom; low energy.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities.
  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying.
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches.
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school.
  • Poor concentration.
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns.
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home.
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior.

Grade-school children are more likely to complain of aches and pains than to say they are depressed. Depressed teens may become aggressive, abuse drugs or alcohol, do poorly in school or run away. In contrast to outward appearances, on the inside they are often experiencing feelings of isolation, emptiness and hopelessness.

Episodes of depression in children last six to nine months on average, but in some children they may last for years. When children are experiencing an episode they may struggle at school, have impaired relationships with their friends and family, internalize their feelings and even have an increased risk for suicide.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among children aged 15 to 19 and third among children aged 10-14. It is essential for young people with severe symptoms or those lasting several weeks to be evaluated by doctors. If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, get help right away. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) to reach a trained professional or you can encourage your child to do so.

How can I help my child and support their treatment?

You and your family can provide the caring support and gentle guidance they need as your child adjusts to living with depression.

Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Help your young person stick to their treatment plan. Make sure they get to appointments and take medication as prescribed. Many young people will question if they still need the medication when they have a period of improvement or are unhappy with some side effects.
  • Learn about depression. Knowledge will help you and your child overcome many aspects of the illness.
  • Communicate openly. Listen to your child or teenagers by allowing them space to express how they feel without judging them.
  • Pay attention to warning signs. Working with your child and the treatment team find ways to identify, avoid and handle triggers.
  • Engage in a healthy lifestyle. Exercise or physical activity help to lift mood. Sleeping well and eating nutritious foods are important to wellness and reduce symptoms.
  • Help your teen avoid alcohol and other drugs. Some teens feel like alcohol or drugs lessen depression symptoms, but in the long run they only worsen their depression and make it harder to treat.

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