Depression in Children

It may not seem possible, and most people don’t want to think about depression in children.

Different from developmental disorders such as ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorders and different from mental disorders such as Schizophrenia, which have obvious symptoms, Depression can occur in children.

Childhood DepressionUp until about 20 years ago, depression in children wasn’t widely recognized.  It wasn’t that the depression didn’t exist; it was undoubtedly just that we didn’t know about it.  Two decades ago, even if the child was aware that “something” was wrong, the parents, teachers, and other adults were likely to dismiss it as a “stage” or “phase” that the child was going through.

There were several reasons for that way of thinking, such as:

  • A belief that children didn’t get depression – adolescents were dismissed as “moody,” younger children were dismissed as “difficult.”
  • Medication available for depression wasn’t appropriate for children due to severe side effects.  Newer antidepressants were not available until Prozac was approved in 1988 for adults.  These medications known as “serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs) were not approved for children until 2002 and to date, only Prozac is recommended for depression in children though Zoloft and Luvox may be used for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in children.
  • The long-term effects of depression were not yet known.  Depression at any age can contribute to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Today, we recognize childhood depression.  About 11 percent of children have experienced at least one episode of childhood depression before the age of 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Normal behavior can certainly vary from child to child and from age to age – as children are prone to “stages” that they will grow out of.  But if a child has an extended period of depression – it is something that should be properly addressed. Such serious issues should not be taken lightly.

Juveniles (those up to age 17) often have different symptoms of depression than those common in adults.  Children with depression may be excessively sad and lethargic, but depression may also show as:

  • Complaints of illness
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Clinging to a parent or caregiver
  • Excessive worrying
  • Sulking
  • Grouchiness
  • Anxiety
  • Acting out at school
  • Excessive negativeness
  • Feelings of being misunderstood

Depressed FeelingsThese symptoms are occasionally experienced by most children as they are growing up, but when symptoms persist for several months or interrupt normal activities and development, more investigation is needed.  One needs to find out what the cause may be.  If a child is being bullied – he or she may not want to go to school.  If a child complains of illness – it may truly be sick.  On the other hand if these events occur over and over, you need to discuss the problem with a doctor.  You may also need to see a child psychiatrist or psychologist.  In some cases, therapy may be warranted but in other cases, the child may benefit from medication suitable for depression.

In any event, you should not ignore symptoms of depression or any other mental illness signs – but investigate them.  It may be that your child is “going through a stage”, but it may be more serious.

Children complaining of illness may be depressed!


One thought on “Depression in Children

  1. Hi Melissa, Thanks for linking to our article. We have learnt so much about Autism from partnering with The Dan Marino Foundation and how it affects these kids at such an early age. Great article on bringing this subject about depression in children more attention!

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