What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder
that causes symptoms such as low energy, prolonged sadness or irritability, and
lack of pleasure in daily activities. Depression is not the normal "moodiness"
associated with maturing. It may be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals
(neurotransmitters). Depression runs in families. It
may also be triggered by traumatic events in the child's life.
What are the risks of depression?
Often a child
who is depressed will develop other disorders along with depression, such as an
anxiety disorder, a behavior disorder like
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an
eating disorder, or a learning disorder. These
problems may occur before a young person becomes depressed. Some children with
depression develop serious behavior problems (conduct disorder), usually after becoming depressed. If your child develops any
of these disorders, it may require treatment along with treatment for
A child or teen with depression is much more likely to
use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. Approximately 30% of teens will develop
alcohol or drug use problems along with
depression.1 This can make depression more difficult
to treat, increase the length of time before treatment is successful, and
increase the risk of suicide. Early diagnosis and treatment of depression along
with good communication with your child can help prevent substance abuse. For
more information about substance abuse in young people, see the topic
Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
teens with depression are at a higher risk for developing other problems, such
- Poor school or job performance.
- Problems in relationships with peers and family
- Early pregnancy.
- Physical illness.
If your child has severe depression, he or she is at
greater risk for suicide or attempted suicide. Some
warning signs of suicide might include substance abuse
problems or a preoccupation with death. Suicide attempts in children younger
than age 12 are rare.
What medicines are generally given to treat childhood and adolescent depression?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) has approved the use of fluoxetine (such as Prozac) in children and teens
with depression. The FDA has not approved the use of other antidepressants in
children, but they may be used.
If medicine is needed,
fluoxetine or another selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitor (SSRI) is usually the first type of antidepressant given. Possible
side effects of SSRIs, such as nausea, loss of appetite, or diarrhea, are less
severe than with other medicines. Other medicines may be tried if fluoxetine or
another SSRI does not reduce your child's symptoms.
of medicine and professional counseling, such as
cognitive-behavioral therapy, is usually most
effective at reducing ongoing (chronic) or severe symptoms of
Are my child's symptoms due to depression or normal moodiness related to growing up?
All children experience some moodiness
such as irritability or sadness as they are maturing into adults. While normal
moodiness does not need treatment, depression does. Deciding whether your
child's moodiness is normal or may be due to depression can be difficult. Learn
how to recognize
the difference between depression and normal moodiness in your child or
If you need more information, see the topic
Depression in Children and Teens.