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Depression in Children and Adolescents


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Nov 2020| Content last modified Nov 2020
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What is depression?

Just like adults, most children have times when they're sad or feel down. It's normal to have a low mood when something sad happens, such as losing a friend or family member or having a disappointment at school. That's not really depression. Depression is when:

  • A low mood is so severe or lasts so long that people can't do their daily tasks or take part in otherwise enjoyable activities

Depression in children:

  • Is more common in adolescence

  • Your child may be sad, uninterested, and sluggish or may be irritable, aggressive, and cranky

  • Depression sometimes starts after something sad happens—but the child's feelings last longer and are more intense than seems normal

  • Younger children are treated with therapy first, while teens are usually treated with therapy and medicine together

What causes depression in children?

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes depression, but risk is increased by:

  • Having close family members who have depression

  • Sad, emotional events such as the loss of a friend or death of a family member

What are the symptoms of depression in children?

Although some children will talk about feeling sad or depressed, many can't explain their emotions. Instead, they may:

  • Feel bored or irritable

  • Have no interest in favorite activities such as playing sports, watching TV, playing video games, or playing with friends

  • Feel tired and out of energy

  • Complain of stomach ache or headache

  • Have problems thinking or paying attention

  • Not sleep well, have nightmares, or sleep too much

  • Give away things that are special to them

These symptoms may cause children to lose friends and do worse in school.

Some children think or talk about suicide. Always take suicidal behavior seriously and immediately take your child to the doctor or a hospital emergency department.

How do doctors treat depression in children?

Doctors treat depression with:

  • Therapy

  • Medicine (antidepressants)

Doctors usually treat teens with both medicine and therapy. They usually treat younger children with therapy first, followed by medicine if needed.

Depression often comes back, so children and teens should be treated for at least a year.

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