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    AboutKidsHealth: Depression in Children and Teens

    Ideally, summer is the time for fun, relaxation and adventure. Kids and teens are provided an opportunity to rest after a busy academic year, to connect with peers in camps, events and activities. They have time to try new things, to deepen and expand on their interests. Families often have more time together, with time off from work and travel. Yet because of all this downtime, fun time and family time, parents may also start to wonder why issues with mood and behaviour haven’t gone away. They may notice that frequent episodes of anger, irritability, sadness or indifference haven’t subsided as the stress and academic demands have fallen away.

    Now with more time to see friends, parents may notice that their son or daughter isn’t connecting with friends as much as they used to. They want to stay at home, spending increasing amounts of time in front of screens. This in itself is not entirely concerning – kids and teens have interests and relationships that change and shift. Kids and teens do connect online. They may also not want to tag along on errands with mom and dad. They want a break. But the summer lethargy – while appropriate for older kids and teens in small doses – should wear thin eventually. When it doesn’t, when concerns related to a child’s mood and behaviour also remain, and when sleep and eating routines change dramatically – sleeping too much, over- or under- eating – these are red flags for depression. Kids and teens should want to see their friends. A loved activity or interest shouldn’t disappear completely. In addition, any expressed thoughts of death, self-harm or suicide should also ring the alarm.

    AboutKidsHealth provides a good overview of what depression can look like for kids and teens. Our clinicians at Boomerang Health do provide assessment and treatment of depression in youth – individually and as a family.

    What is depression?

    Depression is an illness that involves feelings of despair and hopelessness. It lasts longer than the normal feelings of sadness that people feel now and then. It can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour and overall health.

    Depression occurs in children, but it is more common in teens. It is also more common in girls than in boys.

    What factors are linked to depression?

    Depression can have a number of factors.

    • A difficult or stressful situation, such as losing a relative or moving to a new place, can sometimes trigger depression.
    • Family history also plays a part: a child is more likely to be depressed if they have at least one depressed parent or if there is a history of bipolar disorder or repeated episodes of depression.
    • Children with attention problems, a long-term illness or anxiety disorders are also more likely to become depressed. The same applies to children who have been physically or sexually abused.
    • Lesbian, gay and bisexual teens have a higher risk for depression and other forms of mental illness.

    What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

    Each person experiences depression in their own way. However, common signs and symptoms include:

    • frequent sadness without a reason
    • irritability or increased anger
    • frequent crying
    • extreme guilt
    • poor concentration
    • low self-esteem
    • extreme sensitivity to criticism or failure
    • lack of interest in favourite activities
    • sleeping more or less than usual
    • constant low energy or tiredness
    • not wanting to mix with friends
    • poor communication
    • changes in appetite
    • severe weight gain or weight loss
    • frequent headaches and stomach aches
    • absences from school or drop in school performance
    • threats or attempts to run away from home
    • drug or alcohol abuse
    • talk or thoughts of suicide.

    What can I do to help my child with depression?

    Depression can be hard to identify in young children because they cannot yet express their feelings clearly. It can also be hard to identify in teens because they might have developed methods to hide it.

    If you do notice changes in your child, one way to help is to spend time talking with them and listening to their concerns. You can also help them follow a healthy diet and a good sleep routine and encourage them to take part in regular physical activity. It is also a good idea to encourage them to take part in other activities that they enjoy.

    If you suspect that your child is depressed, see their doctor. If it is not treated, depression can lead to self-harm or suicide. See a doctor right away if your child has already harmed themselves or expressed thoughts of suicide.

    How can my child’s doctor help my child with depression?

    Your child’s doctor will usually recommend treatment, just like they would for other illnesses. Treatment usually includes therapy or medicines.


    Your doctor may refer your child to a therapist. The type of therapy will depend on your child’s age, their maturity and the severity of their depression.

    Pre-school children may benefit from forms of parent-child therapy that help with their emotional growth.

    Older children may respond better to cognitive behavioural therapy. This type of therapy can focus on helping a person change how they think or increasing positive activity (behaviour) or both. Changing behaviour or thinking will change feelings. The therapist might recommend therapy with just your child or with your whole family.


    Your child’s doctor might recommend medicines if your child’s depression is moderate to severe or if it persists after therapy.

    The most common medicines for depression are called SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). These work by regulating the brain’s levels of serotonin, a chemical in the body that helps regulate mood.

    These medicines take a few weeks to work. At first, they might briefly increase symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide. Because of this, it is important to monitor your child when they first start taking these medicines.

    For safety reasons, medicines are not usually recommended for preschoolers. Very young children will usually only receive behaviour-based therapy.

    Key points

    • Depression occurs in children of all ages but is more common in teens.
    • Depression is different than regular sadness. It is a mental illness with a range of symptoms, including feelings of low self-worth, concentration difficulties and changes in sleep patterns and other behaviour that last longer than a few days.
    • A child is more likely to become if there is a family history of depression.
    • Depending on a child’s age and type of depression, they can be treated successfully with therapy, medicines or both.

    Author: Patrick J. McGrath

    Original Publish Date: March 31, 2014

    Link to the Article

    About About Kids Health

    AboutKidsHealth is a leading non-profit information source for children’s health. All of the content posted is unbiased, evidence based, and trusted as it was written in collaboration with over 300 SickKids paediatric health specialists. For more information, visit aboutkidshealth.ca.