Depression in Children and Teens
By Gayla King, MS, RN, BC
Perimeter Healthcare, VP of Nursing
Occasional sadness is a regular part of growing up; children and teens will have times when they feel sad and disconnected. However, if these bouts of sadness tend to last longer than usual, and the children feel perpetually disconnected and opt not to participate in activities they previously enjoyed, then you might be dealing with an episode of depression.
Although a lot of people think only adults can experience a major depressive disorder, the reality suggests otherwise. Children and teens also experience depression. Studies show that about 14% of teens experience depression each year. Unfortunately, 6 out of 10 kids with diagnosable depression do not get treatment.
What are the common symptoms of depression in children?
Below are some of the common symptoms of depression in children and teens:
- Feeling sad, irritable, withdrawn, or mostly bored
- Stops finding pleasure in things they used to enjoy
- Having trouble thinking, making decisions or concentrating
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Sudden changes in appetite or weight
- Spending more time alone and loathing the company of other kids or adults
- Caring less about going to or doing well at school
- Talking or having thoughts about dying or suicide
- Teens may have trouble sleeping or sleep a lot more than usual
- In severe cases, they may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) or delusions (having false beliefs)
The symptoms of depression in children and teens vary depending on the child's age and the severity of the disease. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child and think they may be depressed, then you should first talk with them about your concerns and when needed, seek guidance from a mental healthcare professional about possible next steps.
What causes depression in children?
As with adults, the cause of depression in children is not always known. Often, the problem cannot be attributed to a particular cause. Other times, however, it may occur after a stressful or traumatic event. Children who experience bullying or domestic violence, and children who have a family history of depression are also more likely to have the disorder. Girls are also known to be more vulnerable to the disease than boys.
Is depression in children and teens treatable?
Yes, depression in children and teens is treatable. However, it is vital to get help early as the severity may worsen if left untreated. Depression left untreated can lead to unusual behavior and thoughts of suicide. It is of the utmost importance to have open conversations with your child about how they feel and what they need. It is important to note that there is always treatment available and it is never too late to seek help. First steps in treating depression usually involves educating the child and the family about depression. Awareness and understanding of how this disease may affect your child is one of the greatest tools you can have.
The child may also have therapy sessions that would depend on their age and the severity of the case. For younger children, play therapy or talk therapy may be ideal, while older children will likely benefit more from cognitive behavioral therapy. In more severe cases, the mental health expert may consider prescribing antidepressant medications in combination with therapy.