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Depression in Children

Depression in children and adolescents 

Depression affects people of all ages, even children. Childhood depression (also known as pediatric depression) differs from the typical emotions a child experiences as they develop. It’s normal for children to feel sad, low, negative, and cranky from time to time. However, if your child feels down often, or sadness lingers for a long time, your child can be at risk for developing depression.

The risk for depression increases with age through childhood and continues to rise in adolescents. About 2% of children younger than 12 years old will experience depression. This number climbs to 3.5-6% when looking at adolescents (12-17 years old), with female adolescents twice as likely as male adolescents to develop depression.   

Symptoms of childhood depression

Depressed mood is the most common symptom for pediatric depression. More than half of children with depression will also suffer from irritability, or be easily annoyed with little things. This will be seen as them being “grouchy,” bothered,” or much more sensitive to everything and/or everyone. Children and adolescents who are depressed may be more argumentative, frequently starting fights with peers or adults, and commonly have more tantrums or meltdowns. Other symptoms include decreased energy, changes in appetite and sleep, difficulty with concentration, loss of interest in school or social activities, and thoughts of hopelessness, self-harm, or wanting to end their life.

Treating depression in children

While depression doesn’t go away on its own, most children or adolescents with depression respond well to therapy and do not need medications. In some cases, medications will be recommended in combination with therapy.

Depression at any age is very serious, and if you have concerns about a child or adolescent with depression, talk with your child’s doctor about seeking treatment with a child psychologist or child psychiatrist.

If your child or someone you know says anything about suicide or self-harm, you should take this very seriously. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. This is an emergency and professional help is available.

View Dr. Michele Nelson’s profile to learn more.

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