Depression in Children
What Causes Depression in Children?
As in adults, depression in children can be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, life events, family history, environment, genetic vulnerability and biochemical disturbance. Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that will go away without proper treatment.
Can Depression in Children Be Prevented?
Children with a family history of depression are at greater risk of experiencing depression themselves. Children who have parents that suffer from depression tend to develop their first episode of depression earlier than children whose parents do not. Children from chaotic or conflicted families, or children and teens who abuse substances like alcohol and drugs, are also at greater risk of depression.
How Is Depression Diagnosed in Children?
If the symptoms of depression in your child have lasted for at least two weeks, you should schedule a visit with his or her doctor to make sure there are no physical reasons for the symptoms and to make sure that your child receives proper treatment. A consultation with a mental health care professional who specializes in children is also recommended.
A mental health evaluation should include interviews with you (the parent or primary caregiver) and your child, and any additional psychological testing that is necessary. Information from teachers, friends and classmates can be useful for showing that these symptoms are consistent during your child's various activities and are a marked change from previous behavior.
There are no specific tests -- medical or psychological -- that can clearly show depression, but tools such as questionnaires (for both the child and parents) combined with personal information can be very useful in helping diagnose depression in children.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Treatment options for children with depression are similar to those for adults, including psychotherapy (counseling) and medication. The role that family and the child's environment play in the treatment process is different from that of adults. Your child's doctor may suggest psychotherapy first, and consider antidepressant medicine as an additional option if there is no significant improvement. The best studies to date indicate that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most effective at treating depression.
Studies show that the antidepressant Prozac is effective in treating depression in children and teens. The drug is officially recognized by the FDA for treatment of children 8-18 with depression.
Treating Children With Bipolar Disorder
Children with bipolar disorder are usually treated with psychotherapy and a combination of medicines, usually an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer.
Antidepressants need to be used with caution as they can trigger bouts of manic or hyperactive behavior in children with bipolar disorder.
The FDA warns that antidepressant medications may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents with depression and other psychiatric disorders. If you have questions or concerns, discuss them with your health care provider.