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Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. It is sometimes called:
A depressive disorder can develop at any age. Depression in children and teens is more likely after puberty.
Symptoms of depression include feeling sad, down, or hopeless, and loss of interest in hobbies or activities.
Occasional symptoms of depression are common for someone facing serious illness. But in a depressive disorder, symptoms are more severe, longer lasting, and affect daily function.
Clinical depression is a real illness. If your child has it, they need specialized treatment. This can include therapy or antidepressant medicine.
Occasional thoughts or feelings of sadness or low mood are normal when you are dealing with a serious illness. But some patients may have more severe and longer lasting symptoms. In a depressive disorder, symptoms are persistent and cause distress. They can also cause problems in activities of daily living.
Symptoms of depression in children and teens may include:
Depression may look different in children and teens than it does in adults. Children and teens may be more irritable, angry, anxious, or defiant. They may also express more physical complaints. Or they may engage in risky behaviors.
If your child shows symptoms of depression, they may be referred to a mental health specialist. These may include:
A serious illness is a risk factor for depression. Having one or more risk factors does not mean your child will develop depression. But knowing risk factors can help families be more watchful. It can help them take steps to support mental health.
Risk factors that may contribute to depression in children and teens include:
Other factors can affect mental health when living with serious illnesses. These include:
Your child may also struggle with accepting a “new normal” as they deal with long-term issues like:
Grief can be a risk factor for depression.
Having some symptoms of depression during bereavement does not mean a person has a depressive disorder. Each person has a unique experience of grief. But there are some general differences between grief and depression.
Understanding the differences between grief and depression can help match support resources to patient and family needs.
A mental health professional can diagnose mental health problems. Some of the disorders related to childhood depression include:
Managing symptoms of depression is important. Symptoms of depression can:
A depressive disorder can also occur along with mental health problems.
Psychotherapy and antidepressant medicines are often first treatments for a depressive disorder. Each person responds differently to antidepressant therapy. It may take some time for depression to improve.
Providers who offer mental health services for depression include:
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”, is a main treatment for depression.
One of the most effective types of psychotherapy for depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps patients identify negative thoughts and behaviors and to react to situations in a more helpful way.
Psychotherapy may also focus on developing skills to:
Relaxation techniques, art therapy, music therapy, and play therapy may be helpful. Your child might also benefit from individual, group, or family therapy.
A doctor may prescribe medicine for depression. Antidepressants work overtime to treat a depressive disorder. Some patients may need a combination of medicines.
Medicines used to treat depression in children and teens may include:
Anyone taking antidepressants needs regular doctor visits to make sure the medicines are working. They can also monitor any side effects. In rare cases, some medicines may prompt aggressive behavior or increase risk of suicide.
Follow your care team’s directions for medicines exactly. Your child should not take more than prescribed. They should not stop taking the medicine without medical supervision.
Be sure to let a member of your care team know if depression does not improve.
Questions to ask your doctor when prescribed an antidepressant medicine:
Be sure to keep your full care team updated on any changes to your treatment plan or medications. Also, feel free to ask questions about any medicines your child is prescribed. You can also ask about any questions or concerns.
Medicines used to treat depression can be unsafe if:
Ask your child’s care team before making any dose changes. Also, be sure to store medicines safely. Keep them out of the reach of children.
Children and teens with depression should be monitored for suicide risk and worsening of symptoms.
Your child may need ongoing therapy to prevent relapse of depression.
Together does not endorse any branded product mentioned in this article.
Reviewed: February 2023