Depression In Children

Learn About Depression In Children

Children and teenagers may have depression, as can adults. Depression is defined as an illness when depressed mood or lack of interest and caring persist, and interfere with a child or adolescent’s ability to function. About 5 percent of children and adolescents suffer from depression at any given point in time. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attentional, learning, conduct, or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

The behavior of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behavior of depressed adults; children are more likely to report and manifest being fatigued, irritable, and having multiple bodily complaints, some of which result in the child receiving medical attention. A child who used to play often with friends may now spend most of the 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 children and adolescents are at increased risk for committing suicide. Depressed adolescents may abuse alcohol or other drugs as a way of trying to feel better.

Children and adolescents who cause trouble at home or at school may also be suffering from depression. Because the youngster may not always seem sad, parents and teachers may not realize that troublesome behavior is a sign of depression. When asked directly, these children can sometimes state they are unhappy or sad.

Children and adolescents with depression may exhibit:
  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, or crying spells.
  • Decreased interest in activities, or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Persistent boredom, fatigue, low energy.
  • Social isolation, poor communication, withdrawal.
  • Low self-esteem and guilty feelings.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection, or personalizing failure.
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility.
  • Difficulty with relationships, often either withdrawing altogether or demanding exclusivity.
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomach distress.
  • Frequent absences from school, or poor academic performance.
  • Poor concentration due to diminished mental stamina.
  • A major change in eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide, or self-destructive behavior such as cutting or scratching.

Depression is a real illness that requires professional help. Treatment may also include the use of antidepressant medication. For help, parents should ask their physician to refer them to a qualified mental health professional, who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.

While childhood depression goes beyond mere sadness, sometimes depression is a sign of a more serious psychiatric condition, bipolar disorder. It is critical to make this distinction because the treatment for depression in bipolar disorder is different; indeed, treating bipolar depression with antidepressants can make the bipolar disorder worse. Consider that an episode of depressed mood may actually reflect bipolar disorder if there is major mental illness of any diagnosis in the family; if thoughts are racing faster than the child can keep up with, or if the mind seems to “have a mind of its own”; if there are features of expansive mood, inflated self-esteem, increase in goal-directed behavior, lack of sleep due to increased energy, or precocious sexuality; if the child seems to seek out social stimulation even while feeling sad or bad. A psychiatrist can make this distinction based on evaluation of the child, interview of parents and caregivers, and careful review of the child’s and family history.

This article has drawn from the following sources:

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