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Depression in Children and Teens - Topic Overview

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This topic covers depression in children and teens. For information about depression in adults, see the topic Depression. For information about depression with episodes of high energy (mania), see the topic Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens.

Depression is a serious mood disorder that can take the joy from a child's life. It is normal for a child to be moody or sad from time to time. You can expect these feelings after the death of a pet or a move to a new city. But if these feelings last for weeks or months, they may be a sign of depression.

Experts used to think that only adults could get depression. Now we know that even a young child can have depression that needs treatment to improve. As many as 2 out of 100 young children and 8 out of 100 teens have serious depression.1

Still, many children don't get the treatment they need. This is partly because it can be hard to tell the difference between depression and normal moodiness. Also, depression may not look the same in a child as in an adult.

If you are worried about your child, learn more about the symptoms in children. Talk to your child to see how he or she is feeling. If you think your child is depressed, talk to your doctor or a counselor. The sooner a child gets treatment, the sooner he or she will start to feel better.

A child may be depressed if he or she:

  • Is irritable, sad, withdrawn, or bored most of the time.
  • Does not take pleasure in things he or she used to enjoy.

A child who is depressed may also:

  • Lose or gain weight.
  • Sleep too much or too little.
  • Feel hopeless, worthless, or guilty.
  • Have trouble concentrating, thinking, or making decisions.
  • Think about death or suicide a lot.

The symptoms of depression are often overlooked at first. It can be hard to see that symptoms are all part of the same problem.

Also, the symptoms may be different depending on how old the child is.

  • Both very young children and grade-school children may lack energy and become withdrawn. They may show little emotion, seem to feel hopeless, and have trouble sleeping. Often they will lose interest in friends and activities they liked before. They may complain of headaches or stomachaches. A child may be more anxious or clingy with caregivers.
  • Teens may sleep a lot or move or speak more slowly than usual. Some teens and children with severe depression may see or hear things that aren't there (hallucinate) or have false beliefs (delusions).

Depression can range from mild to severe. A child who feels a little "down" most of the time for a year or more may have a milder, ongoing form of depression called dysthymia (say "dis-THY-mee-uh"). In its most severe form, depression can cause a child to lose hope and want to die.

Whether depression is mild or severe, there are treatments that can help.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 03, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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