Recognizing Depression in Children and Teens

Kids, Teens & Depression photo of upset teen boy

Your 11-year-old is the class bully. Your 15-year-old daughter exhibits frequent sudden bursts of anger. Normal signs of childhood development or early warning signs? Depression is a serious problem in both children and teens, and learning to recognize the symptoms early can help prevent future episodes and set them up for behavioral health success.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way you think and feel, causing a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It’s more than just a feeling of being “down in the dumps” for a few days. If you are one of the more than 20 million people in the United States who have depression, the feelings do not go away. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.  There is a variety of causes, including genetic, environmental, psychological, and biochemical factors.

Can Children Suffer From Depression?

According to a WebMD.com article, about 2.5 percent of U.S. children suffer from depression. While significantly more common in boys under age 10, depression becomes more common in girls by age 16.

How Can I Tell if My Child Is Depressed?

The symptoms of depression in children vary. Depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated, however, because symptoms are regarded as normal emotional and psychological changes of childhood. The primary symptoms of depression involve sadness, hopelessness and mood changes.

Other signs and symptoms of depression in children include: (Source: WebMD.com)

  • Irritability or anger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection
  • Changes in appetite—either increased or decreased
  • Changes in sleep—inability to sleep or excessive sleep
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Physical complaints (e.g., stomachaches, headaches) that don’t respond to treatment
  • Reduced ability to function during events and activities with friends and/or family
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

image of graphic showing signs of depressionThis list is not all-inclusive; in fact, most kids will display different symptoms at different times and in different settings. Although some children may continue to function reasonably well in structured environments, according to the National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health website, most kids with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in school and poor academic performance, or a change in appearance.

Isn’t depression in teens really just natural hormonal mood swings?

It can be tough to spot depression in teens. It’s normal for them to have extreme mood swings. This is the result of their changing hormones. It’s also just part of growing up. About one in five teenagers has depression at some point. Your teen may be depressed if he or she is feeling sad or down in the dumps. Depression is a serious problem, and if your teen is always depressed, you should be concerned. You may see some of the following common symptoms of depression; if these symptoms last for two weeks or longer, the National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health recommends you talk to your teen’s doctor.

  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Problems in school and at home
  • Frequent episodes of running away
  • Thoughts or talk of death or suicide
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Hostile behavior or rage
  • Frequent irritability with sudden bursts of anger
  • More sensitive to criticism
  • Complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other body problems
  • Your teen may frequent the nurse’s office at school
  • Withdrawal from people like parents or some friends
  • Not enjoying activities they usually like
  • Feeling tired for much of the day
  • Sad feelings most of the time

Long-Term Outlook

It is often easier to deny that your child has depression than seek the help of a mental health care professional. It’s crucial that parents understand depression and the importance of treatment for the health and future of your child. According to WEBMD.com, depression may precede more serious mental illness later in life; therefore, diagnosis, early treatment and close monitoring are key.

What You Can Do

Because of the social stigmas associated with mental illness, both parents and children often avoid confronting the issue of depression. Talk with your teen frequently to check in with them. Ask them about their feelings. Talking about depression may help them to get help sooner.

Assure your child or teen that their pain can be eased. Offer your love and support. If your child or teen talks about death or suicide, seek help right away. Get your teen professional help to deal with low moods. Treating depression early may help them feel better sooner, and may prevent or delay future episodes. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 904.291.5561, and let us help your child achieve his or her highest possible level of independence.

National Suicide Hotline

800-784-2433 (800-SUICIDE)

Sources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000648.htm

http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-children

http://myhealth.umassmemorial.org/Library/DiseasesConditions/Pediatric/3,84921