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Recognizing Depression in Children and Teens

Portrait of teen girl.

Maybe your 10-year-old is the class bully. Or your teenage daughter ignores her curfew. These actions might be normal signs of growing up. But they also may signal depression. Depression is a serious problem in both children and teens. But treatment can help.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way you think and feel. It is a serious illness, just like diabetes and heart disease. And, like those serious illnesses, depression is not something a person can just "snap out of." The most common symptom is a feeling of deep sadness. People who are depressed also may feel hopeless, or that life isn’t worth living. At times, depression may lead to thoughts of suicide or death.

Depression in children

Children as young as age 6 may have feelings of deep sadness. But they can’t always express the way they feel. Instead, your child may:

  • Eat more or less than normal

  • Sleep more or less than normal

  • Seem unable to have fun

  • Think or speak about suicide or death

  • Seem fearful or anxious

  • Act in an aggressive way

  • Use alcohol, illegal drugs, or medicines not prescribed to them

  • Complain of stomachaches or other pains that can’t be explained

Depression in teens

It can be hard to spot depression in teens. It’s normal for them to have extreme mood swings. This is the result of their changing hormones. It’s also just part of growing up. But if your teen is always depressed, you should be concerned. Other signs of depression include:

  • Using drugs or alcohol

  • Problems in school and at home

  • Frequent episodes of running away

  • Thoughts or talk of death or suicide

  • Withdrawal from family and friends

  • Unplanned pregnancy

  • Hostile behavior or rage

  • Loss of pleasure in life

  • Not caring about activities once enjoyed

What you can do

Depressed children and teens can be helped with treatment. Talk with your child's healthcare provider or school counselor or psychologist. Or check with your local mental health center, social service agency, or hospital. Assure your child or teen that their pain can be eased. Offer your love and support. If your child or teen talks about death or suicide, seek help right away.

To learn more

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2020
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