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Depression in Children and Teens - Topic Overview

Usually one of the first steps in treating depression is education for the child and his or her family. Teaching both the child and the family about depression can be a big help. It makes them less likely to blame themselves for the problem. Sometimes it can help other family members see that they are also depressed.

Counseling may help the child feel better. The type of counseling will depend on the age of the child. For young children, play therapy may be best. Older children and teens may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of counseling can help them change negative thoughts that make them feel bad.

Medicine may be an option if the child is very depressed. Combining antidepressant medicine with counseling often works best. A child with severe depression may need to be treated in the hospital.

There are some things you can do at home to help your child start to feel better.

  • Encourage your child to get regular exercise, spend time with supportive friends, eat healthy foods, and get enough sleep.
  • See that your child takes any medicine as prescribed and goes to all follow-up appointments.
  • Make time to talk and listen to your child. Ask how he or she is feeling. Express your love and support.
  • Remind your child that things will get better in time.

Antidepressant medicines often work well for children who are depressed. But there are some important things you should know about these medicines.

  • Children who take antidepressants should be watched closely. These medicines may increase the risk that a child will think about or try suicide, especially in the first few weeks of use. If your child takes an antidepressant, learn the warning signs of suicide, and get help right away if you see any of them. Common warning signs include:
    • Talking, drawing, or writing about death.
    • Giving away belongings.
    • Withdrawing from family and friends.
    • Having a plan, such as a gun or pills.
  • Your child may start to feel better after 1 to 3 weeks of taking antidepressant medicine. But it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement. Make sure your child takes antidepressants as prescribed and keeps taking them so they have time to work.
  • A child may need to try several different antidepressants to find one that works. If you notice any warning signs or have concerns about the medicine, or if you do not notice any improvement by 3 weeks, talk to your child's doctor.
  • Do not let a child suddenly stop taking antidepressants. This could be dangerous. Your doctor can help you taper off the dose slowly to prevent problems.
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