Depression

Understanding Depression in Children and Teens

Depression

What is Depression?

Depression is a serious mood disorder that is frequently diagnosed in adults, yet children and adolescents are also vulnerable. Depression tends to run in families, but can also be associated with situational factors. For example, children who experience loss, family conflict, behavior problems, and academic difficulties may experience depression as a result of these stressors.

Prevalence

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, approximately 5% of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression.

Diagnosing Depression

Depression is often difficult to diagnose in children and adolescents because the symptoms present differently than in the case of an adult. It is unusual for a child to state that he or she is “sad” or “down in the dumps” as an adult might indicate. Instead, a depressed child might present as restless, inattentive, or irritable.

Adding to the confusion is the tendency for depressive symptoms in children to mimic symptoms of other childhood disorders. For example, a depressed child who is restless and has trouble concentrating might be mistakenly labeled ADHD. A comprehensive assessment is important in order to determine whether a depressive disorder exists

The following are common signs of depression in children and adolescents:

  • Sad mood
  • Irritability
  • Behavioral acting out
  • Isolation from family and/or friends
  • Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Marked increase or decrease in sleep and/or appetite
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimistic outlook
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or behavior
  • Frequent physical complaints
Treatment

Depression in children and adolescents is a very treatable disorder. As is the case in other childhood disorders, early diagnosis and intervention is crucial. The typical course of treatment of depression in children involves individual as well as family therapy. In some cases, a referral to a child psychiatrist may be necessary, in order to assess the need for antidepressant medication.