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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 He or she may have problems in school and become withdrawn or defiant.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.

Treatment in the hospital

For severe depression, your child may need to be hospitalized, especially if he or she is out of touch with reality (psychotic) or is having thoughts of suicide.

Relapse

During treatment for depression, make sure that your child takes medicines and attends counseling appointments as directed, even if he or she feels better. A common cause of relapse is stopping treatment too soon.

Suicide and depression

It's very important to recognize the warning signs of suicide in your child or teen. Carefully watch for signs of suicidal behavior if your child has recently:

  • Broken up with a girlfriend or boyfriend.
  • Had disciplinary troubles in school or with the law.
  • Had problems with poor grades or had trouble learning.
  • Had family problems.
  • Been the victim of repeated bullying.
  • Had substance abuse problems.
  • Started, stopped, or changed doses of an antidepressant medicine.

It is extremely important that you take all threats of suicide seriously and seek immediate treatment for your child or teenager. If you are a child or teen and have these feelings, talk with your parents, an adult friend, or your doctor right away to get some help. If your child is suicidal, call911or other emergency services immediately.

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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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