Childhood depression is a serious problem. Depression is more than just feeling down or sad. Even when major disappointments and setbacks make people feel sad and angry, the negative feelings usually lessen with time. But when depression lasts for weeks or months and limits a child’s ability to function normally, it is called major depression.
The exact causes of depression in children and young teens are unclear. It may be triggered by stressful events like problems at school, troubles with other children, loss of a friend, parents’ divorce, or the death of a pet or family member. Children with severe learning disabilities, physical handicaps, or medical problems often develop depression. However, depression can start with no specific cause.
In childhood, both boys and girls are equally at risk. Depression is more serious when it begins before the age of 10 or 11 and is not the result of a specific event. During the teen years, girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression.
Depression runs in families. If you, or others in your family, have had depression or bipolar disorder then your child is more likely to develop depression.
Some research suggests that depression may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Depression is somewhat different in children and teens than in adults. Adults usually describe feelings of sadness and hopelessness along with fatigue. Depressed children are usually more irritable and moody. They may be defiant. They may shift from sadness or irritability to sudden anger.
Teenagers have to deal with puberty, peers, and developing a sense of self. In all the confusion, it’s easy to miss the signs of teenage depression. Some children and teens don’t know that they are depressed. Instead of talking about how bad they feel, they may act out. You may see this as misbehavior or disobedience.
• Gets irritated often. Little things make him or her lose his or her temper or become tense.
• Your child may have frequent outbursts of shouting or complaining, or acting reckless.
• May start destroying things such as household items or toys.
• Has low self-esteem, saying things like, “I hate myself” or “I’m stupid.”
• Feels restless, bored, or tired most of the time.
• Loses interest in a lot of the things he or she used to like, and wants to be left alone most of the time.
• Forgets lots of things, and has trouble paying attention.
• Staying on task with homework can be a major problem.
• May sleep a lot more or have trouble falling asleep at night.
• Loses his or her appetite, becomes a picky eater, or eats a lot more.
• Becomes extremely sensitive to rejection or failure.
• Your child rejects others, such as refusing affection from parents or pushing friends away.
• Talks about death and suicide, such as saying, “I wish I were dead.”
• Feels guilty for no reason or believes that he or she is just no good.
• Your child may self-injure, such as by biting, hitting, or cutting him or herself.
• Doesn’t care about rewards or consequences of doing or not doing chores or homework.
If your child or teenager often has the symptoms of depression listed above, seek professional help. Do not try to treat these symptoms by yourself. Professional treatment is necessary. Get emergency care if your child or teenager has ideas of suicide or harming others or harming him or herself.