Depression in Children and Teens

Depression is a medical illness. It affects your mental and physical health. Anyone can have depression. It is important to know that it is not your fault. Children and teens who are depressed may have different symptoms than adults.

Younger children who are depressed may:

  • Have a poor appetite and/or weight loss.
  • Feel sad or hopeless.
  • Not enjoy playing as much as usual.
  • Worry more.

Older children who are depressed may:

  • Be anxious or have trouble focusing.
  • Be angry and act out or lose their temper more.
  • Have changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual).
  • Not want to go to school or other social activities.
  • Complain of feeling sick often.
  • Seem less confident or feel like they can’t do anything right.

Path to improved well being

It’s important to regularly talk with your teen. You can show you care and support them by doing these things:

  • Let them know you are there for them.
  • Always listen. Remain quiet so they feel like they are being heard.
  • Avoid bombarding them with questions and lectures after listening.
  • Help your teen create a healthy lifestyle with regular sleep, a balanced diet, and exercise.
  • Gently remind your teen to take his or her medicine.
  • Look for signs that his or her depression is getting worse.
  • Talk to your teen about substance abuse (alcohol and drugs). These substances make depression worse.
  • Keep your house safe for your teen by eliminating alcohol, remove guns and other weapons, and keep prescription medicines locked up.
  • Have a safety plan in place if your teen is suicidal or needs urgent help.

See your child’s doctor if you notice symptoms for 2 or more weeks. It might mean that your child is depressed. Your doctor can do an exam and refer your child to a specialist. This may include a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Your child can talk to them about what and how they feel. Family counseling can help everyone in your family. A combination of counseling and medicine can help treat depression in most young people.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends depression screening for teens, ages 12 to 18, who have symptoms. The AAFP does not have enough evidence to assess the benefits and risks of screening children younger than 11 years of age for depression.

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you think your child or teen is having thoughts of suicide. Call 911 if your child attempts suicide.

Things to consider

Young people can be depressed for many reasons. Genetics, health conditions, and life events can be factors. Below are other possible reasons for depression in children and teens.

  • Your family moves to a new place to live.
  • Your child has to change schools.
  • A pet, friend, or family member dies.
  • A loved on is seriously ill.
  • Your child is bullied or abused.
  • Your child has behavior problems. This includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Your child is dealing with gender identity or sexual orientation issues.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do I know if it’s something other than depression?
  • What can I do to help prevent depression?
  • What types of medicine can help treat depression in children and teens? What are the side effects?
  • Can you recommend a support group for my child or teen who is depressed?