Also known as: dysthymia, clinical depression, major depressive disorder, major depression.

What is depression?

Depression is a common (2% of preschool and school age children; higher in adolescents) clinical condition that affects a child/adolescents mood and mental health, for more than two weeks, severe enough to interfere with everyday living.

What causes depression in children and teens?

There does not appear to be a specific cause in children; depression seems to be the result of a number of risk factors. Some biological risk factors include:
  • gender of the child (occurs in girls more often than boys)
  • born prematurely
  • mother was younger than 18 ears of age during pregnancy
Psychological risk factors include:
  • low esteem
  • negative body image
  • tendency to be self-critical
  • anxiety
Environmental risk factors:
  • reaction to stress like physical/verbal/sexual abuse
  • loss of a parent/close family member
  • bullying
  • illness
  • poverty
  • medications
Children with a parent that has experienced depression at are an increases risk (by about 4 times normal) of being affected. Depression may also be associated with other mental health disorders (e.g. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-ADHD).

What are the symptoms of depression?

Major depression is more than sadness lasting a few days; symptoms must interfere with daily functioning and last for weeks/months or years (if untreated).

Diagnostic symptoms include some or all of:

  • significant sadness
  • poor appetite with weight loss (or gaining a lot of weight)
  • change in sleep pattern (trouble sleeping or sleeping too much)
  • agitation
  • fatigue
  • feeling worthless
  • loss of energy
  • thoughts of suicide or death.

Children may also present with irritability, deteriorating school performance, boredom, physical symptoms like abdominal pain or recurrent headaches, and risk taking destructive and acting out behaviors etc.

What are depression care options? 

Lifestyle changes, stress management, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, complementary treatments and if severe enough, medications are all of value in treating children and teens with depression.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: November 19, 2019 01:47 PM

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