Depression in Children & Teens
All children can feel down from time to time. However, when parents notice that their child or teen is sad or moody for days on end, they may worry about a true clinical depression, which unfortunately is becoming more prevalent among the young. Clinical depression occurs as young as age six, sometimes younger. It can go undetected and continue well into adulthood.
Depression looks different from one patient to another, sometimes presenting with physical complaints of headaches or stomach aches. The cause may be unknown. The episodes can come and go. Depression tends to run in families, worsen with situational stressors (bullying, divorce, trauma, confrontations, life transitions) and may be subtle or even masked by an artificially happy, cheerful demeanor. Childhood and adolescent depression is more likely to be characterized as irritability, as opposed to overt displays of sadness.
If a parent suspects his child may be depressed, they can try asking him or her how they feel or if anything is bothering them. Some children will outright tell the parent that they want to harm themselves or be dead – such statements should be taken seriously. This age group is at increased risk of actual self-injury, and as they mature, at risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism. The child’s pediatrician can help, too, by conducting a thorough screening either by interview or filling out a brief survey.
A school counselor or qualified mental health professional also may facilitate further evaluation by way of a comprehensive assessment and necessary follow-up with the correct treatments. It’s not uncommon for depression to be present along with other conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and learning disorders. There are multiple considerations which take skill to manage.
Children and teens want to live happy, productive lives; clearing up depression can help them do just that.