Childhood Depression


Depression is not only seen in adults but in children too. Learn the causes, symptoms and treatment of childhood depression.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2020 11:29 GMT

Childhood Depression
Childhood Depression
What is childhood depression?

Kids may get upset and behave according to their mood. Emotional fluctuations are quite common in children. But if the feelings of sadness last for more than two weeks it can be a sign of depression. It becomes difficult to diagnose depression in children.

It is estimated that 1 out of every 5 young people has some sort of mental health problems. The National Institute of Mental Health has estimated that 3.3% of children (13 to 18 years old) have episodes of serious depression. The long-lasting sadness in their mind, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness can be called depression and it can disrupt their social and school activities. Childhood depression is a serious mental issue and a distinct clinical entity that requires immediate medical diagnosis and early treatment. Early diagnosis can be life changing and lifesaving.

Causes of childhood depression

Depression can be seen in any children and it is not a sign of weakness. There are a number of reasons for depression like stressful life events, genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

Brain chemistry: There can be imbalances in certain neurotransmitters and hormones that a have vital role in determining how the brain works. These imbalances can in turn affect the moods and emotions and increase the risk of depression.

Physical health: Children with chronic health conditions like obesity are likely to get depressed.

Family history: Parents with depression or any mood disorders have higher chances of having a child with depression.

Stressful events: Feeling of depression can also be due to parent’s separation due to divorce and traumatic events like abuse or assault.

Environmental factors: Sometimes environmental factors like an unstable home environment, rejection and bullying at school can be a causative factor for depression.

Common signs of depression in children

Kids present with different sets of symptoms at different settings. Not all of the following symptoms need to be present.

·         Increased or decreased appetite and changes in weight

·         Sleep disturbances

·         Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness

·         Running away from home or talking about running away from home

·         Fatigue

·         Defiant attitude

·         Impaired thinking and loss of concentration

·         Poor academic performance

·         Anger and irritability

·         Physical complaints like stomach aches and headaches

·         Unable to socialize in games and activities

·         Writing goodbye letters and giving away favorite possessions

·         Suicidal thoughts

·         Increase sensitivity to rejection or criticism

·         Emotional or vocal outbursts and crying

Diagnosis of childhood depression

If your child has five or more symptoms of depression that lasts for more than two weeks, it is ideal to have a medical consultation. A thorough medical examination is necessary to find out if there is any underlying physical illness. If there are no physical illnesses, consultation with a psychiatrist is important.

A mental health evaluation is carried out by conducting a psychological interview, questionnaire and psychological testing.  This helps clarify the diagnosis and proceed with treatment recommendations.

Treatment of childhood depression

The consequences of childhood depression are extreme and serious and treatment is absolutely necessary. Treatment plan depends on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment includes psychotherapy, lifestyle changes and medications. If there is no improvement with psychotherapy, antidepressants are prescribed.


The use of antidepressants needs to be closely monitored to minimize the risk of side effects. The use of antidepressants in the initial few weeks can increase the risk of suicidal thinking in children. Parents should monitor their child’s behavior carefully. Some of the anti-depressants that are used to treat childhood depression include duloxetine, fluoxetine and sertraline.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

In this approach, you help your child to leave their negative thoughts and help their thoughts to become more positive and effective. You can also address the problematic behavior and help overcome their fears. You can engage them in art and play therapy.

Lifestyle changes

·         Talk to your children about their feelings

·         Build a strong social support system

·         Have a healthy environment at home

·         Get them involved in regular physical activities and minimize the screen time

·         Make your children follow a consistent sleep schedule.

·         Choose the right relaxation techniques to free them from their stress

·         Give them proper love and care








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