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Depression Health Center

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Depression in Children and Teens - What Happens

At first, depression in a child or teen may appear as irritability, sadness, or sudden, unexplained crying. He or she may lose interest in activities enjoyed in the past or may feel unloved and hopeless. He or she may have problems in school and become withdrawn or defiant.

An episode of depression lasts an average of 8 months.1 Even with successful treatment, as many as 40 out of 100 children with depression will have another episode within a few years.2

Less than half of children and teens with depression receive treatment.3 This may be partly due to the old belief that young people don't get depression.

Also, teens often do not seek help for depression. They may think feeling bad is normal, or they may blame something else (or themselves) for their symptoms. Or they may not know where to go for help. Tell your child to ask for help if he or she feels bad. And let your child know who to go to for help with depression or other problems.

Drugs and alcohol

Some teens will have alcohol or drug use problems along with depression. When this happens, depression is harder to treat, and it can take longer for treatment to work. Drug or alcohol use also increases the risk of suicide.

Early diagnosis and treatment of depression and 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.

Other problems

Often a child who is depressed will have 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), often after becoming depressed. If your child has one of these disorders, it may require treatment along with depression.

Children and teens with depression are also at a higher risk for problems such as:

  • Poor school or job performance.
  • Problems in relationships with peers and family members.
  • Early pregnancy.
  • Physical illness.
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