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Depression in Children

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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 ages 8 to 18 with depression.  Other medications may be chosen if there are other coexisting illnesses contributing to the 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. Additionally, if your child is placed on these medications, it is still very important to continue to follow closely with the physician and therapist. 

Long-Term Outlook

Studies have found that first-time depression in children is occurring at younger ages than previously. As in adults, depression may occur again later in life. Depression often occurs at the same time as other physical illnesses. And because studies have shown that depression may precede more serious mental illness later in life, diagnosis, early treatment and close monitoring are crucial.

As a parent, it is sometimes easier to deny that your child has depression. You may put off seeking the help of a mental health care professional because of the social stigmas associated with mental illness. It is very important for you -- as the parent -- to understand depression and realize the importance of treatment so that your child may continue to grow physically and emotionally in a healthy way. It is also important to seek education about the future effects depression may have on your child throughout adolescence and adulthood. 

Depression in Children: Warning Signs

Parents should be particularly vigilant for signs that may indicate that their child is at risk for suicide.

Warning signs of suicidal behavior in children include:

  • Many depressive symptoms (changes in eating, sleeping, activities)
  • Social isolation, including isolation from the family
  • Talk of suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Increased acting-out of undesirable behaviors (sexual/behavioral)
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Frequent accidents
  • Substance abuse
  • Focus on morbid and negative themes
  • Talk about death and dying
  • Increased crying or reduced emotional expression
  • Giving away possessions
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on May 10, 2014
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