Depression in Children and Teens

Depression is a medical illness. It affects your physical and mental health. Anyone can have depression. It is important to know that it is not your fault. Depressed children and adolescents may have different symptoms than adults.

Younger children who are depressed may:

  • Have a poor appetite and/or weight loss.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • I don’t enjoy playing as much as usual.
  • worry more

Older children who are depressed may:

  • Being anxious or having trouble concentrating.
  • Being angry and acting out or losing your temper more.
  • You have changes in appetite (eat more or less than usual)
  • I don’t want to go to school or other social activities.
  • Complain of feeling sick frequently
  • They seem less confident or feel like they can’t do anything right.

Path to better health

It’s important to talk to your teen regularly. You can show them that you care and support them by doing the following:

  • Let them know that you are there for them.
  • Always listen. Remain silent so you feel like you 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 their medications.
  • Look for signs that your depression is getting worse.
  • Talk to your teen about substance abuse (alcohol and drugs). These substances make depression worse.
  • Keep your home safe for your teen by eliminating alcohol, removing guns and other weapons, and keeping prescription medications 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 could mean your child is depressed. Your doctor can perform 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 medication can help treat depression in most young people.

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

Contact the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline (988) if you think your child or teen is having suicidal thoughts. 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 adolescents:

  • His family moves to a new place to live.
  • Your son has to change schools.
  • A pet, friend or family member dies.
  • A loved one is seriously ill.
  • Your child is bullied or abused.
  • Your child has behavioral 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 more than depression?
  • What can I do to help prevent depression?
  • What types of medications can help treat depression in children and adolescents? What are the side effects?
  • Can you recommend a support group for my depressed child or teen?

Resources

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: How to Help Your Teen with Depression

National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988

National Institute of Mental Health: Studies of depression in children

National Institute of Mental Health: Adolescent Depression

Talking saves lives

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Findtreatment.gov

LGBT Suicide Prevention

US Preventive Services Task Force: Clinical Recommendation for Depression and Suicide Risk in Children and Adolescents

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Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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