Significant depression exists in about 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attentional, learning or conduct disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Many other children experience a low grade depression. The behavior of depressed children and teenagers differs from the behavior of depressed adults. Understanding child depression is important because child depression is often over looked.

As a therapist who works with many children and adolescents, I advise parents to be aware of signs in their child such as:

  • Persistent sadness or tearfulness.
  • An inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities.
  • Increased activity, restlessness, or irritability.
  • Poor performance or frequent absence from school.
  • Persistent boredom, low energy, poor concentration.
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns.
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships or isolation.
  • Morbid or suicidal thoughts
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness.
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Negative mood or bleak outlook.

Having two or more of these symptoms may indicate depression. A child who used to play often with friends may now spend most of his or her time alone and without interests. Things that were once fun now bring little joy to the depressed child. Children and adolescents who are depressed may say they want to be dead or may talk about suicide. Depressed adolescents may abuse alcohol or other drugs as a way to feel better.

Children and adolescents who cause trouble at home or at school may actually be depressed but not know it. Because the youngster may not always seem sad, parents may not realize that misbehavior is a sign of depression. When asked directly, these children or teens can sometimes state that they are unhappy or sad. Still others just do not realize that they are depressed.

Depression is something children and adolescents cannot just outgrow. For many children, depression may cycle throughout a lifetime, peaking during episodes of emotional distress.

The people closest to a depressed child may have the most difficulty detecting that anything is really wrong. Studies show that parents consistently miss the signs of depression. Part of this may be due to the fact that depression runs in families. Parents who were depressed themselves as children or adults may be more likely to write off the symptoms as “normal” or a part of development.

Early diagnosis and treatment are very important children who are depressed and the first step is understanding child depression. Diagnosis is so important because depressed children tend to develop increasingly severe mental disorders if untreated. If you suspect that your child or adolescent is suffering from depression, consult with a child and adolescent psychotherapist who can diagnose and treat depression in children. Getting appropriate treatment can make all the difference.