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Cancer Health Center

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Depression (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Pediatric Considerations for Depression


Most cancer survivors demonstrate general resiliency and successful psychological adjustment to the disease and its treatment. Despite evidence for successful adaptation, most studies document psychological difficulties in a significant subset of cancer survivors.

Assessment and Diagnosis of Pediatric Depression


The term depression refers to a symptom, a syndrome, a set of psychological responses, or to an illness.[1] Duration and intensity of the behavioral manifestation (e.g., sadness) differentiates the symptoms from the disorder. For example, a sad affect can be a child's response to trauma and is usually of short duration; however, a depressive illness is characterized by long duration, and is associated with insomnia, irritability, changes in eating habits, and severe impairment of the child's scholastic and social adjustment. Depression should be considered whenever any behavior problem persists. Depression does not refer to transitory moments of sadness, but rather to a disorder that affects development and interferes with realization of the child's innate potential.[1]

Some manifestations of depression in a school-aged child include anorexia, lethargy, sad affect, aggression, weeping, hyperactivity, somatization, fear of death, frustration, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, self criticism, frequent day dreaming, low self-esteem, school refusal, learning problems, slow movements, vacillating hostility towards parents and teachers, and loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities. Differentiating these symptoms from behavioral responses to normal developmental stages is important.[1]

Assessment of depression includes determination of the child's family situation, level of emotional maturity, ability to cope with illness and treatment, age, state of development, previous experience with illness, and personal ego strength.[10]

A comprehensive assessment for childhood depression is the basis for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Evaluation of the child and family situation focuses on the pediatric health history, behaviors observed by the practitioner or reported by others (e.g., parents, teachers), interviews with the child, and judicial use of tests such as the Beck Depression Inventory or the Child Behavior Checklist.[10]


In discussing the diagnosis of childhood depression, experts stress the importance of understanding childhood depression as an entity distinct from depression in adults. This is due to the fact that developmental issues in childhood are distinctly different from those of adulthood.[11]

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