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Childhood Depression

What Is Depression?

Depression is a serious health problem that affects people of all ages, including children and adolescents. It is the persistent experience of a sad or irritable mood and the loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities. These feelings are accompanied by a range of additional symptoms affecting appetite and sleep, activity level and concentration, and feelings of self-worth.

Clinical depression is more than just “feeling blue” or having a bad day. And it’s different from the feelings of grief or sorrow that might follow a major loss, such as a death in the family. It’s not a personal weakness or a character flaw. Children and teens with clinical depression cannot simply “snap out of it”.

Depression is a form of mental illness that affects the whole body, it impacts the way one feels, thinks and acts. If left untreated, depression can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug use, and even suicide.

Know The Signs.

  • Persistent sadness and hopelessness.

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities once enjoyed.

  • Increased irritability or agitation.

  • Missed school or poor school performance.

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits (e.g. significant weight loss or insomnia).

  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness.

  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.

  • Frequent physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches.

  • Lack of enthusiasm or motivation.

  • Low energy and chronic fatigue.

  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse.

  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Know The Facts.

  • As many as one in every 33 children and approximately one in eight adolescents may have depression. (Center for Mental Health Services, 1996).

  • Treatment of major depression is as effective for children as it is for adults. (Dr. Graham Emslie, American Medical Association, Archives of General Psychiatry, November 15, 1997).

What are some of the risk factors for depression?

  • Children under stress, who have experienced loss, or who have attention, learning, or conduct disorders are at a higher risk for depression (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry).

  • Adolescent girls are more likely than adolescent boys to develop depression (National Institute of Mental Health).

  • Youth, particularly younger children, who develop depression are likely to have a family history of the disorder (National Institute of Mental Health).i>

  • Four out of every five runaway youth suffer from depression (U.S. Select Committee on Children, Youth & Families).

What are some of the consequences of depression?

  • Once a young person has experienced an episode of depression, he or she is at risk for developing another episode of depression within the next 5 years (Center for Mental Health Services).

  • Depression in childhood may predict more severe depressive illness in adulthood (National Institute of Mental Health).

  • Depression in children and adolescents is associated with an increased risk for suicidal behaviors (National Institute of Mental Health).

What Can Parents/Adults Do?

If parents or other adults in a young person’s life suspect a problem with depression, they should:

  • Know the warning signs of depression and note how long problems have been going on, how often they occur, and how severe they seem.

  • See a mental health professional or the child’s doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.

  • Get accurate information from libraries, hotlines and other sources.

  • Ask questions about treatments and services.

  • Talk to other families or find a family network organization.

It is important for people who have questions about, or are not satisfied with, the mental health care they receive to discuss their concerns with the provider, ask for more information and seek help from other sources.

Help is Available

Depression is treatable. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for children with depression. Children who exhibit symptoms of depression should be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating children and adolescents. The diagnostic evaluation may include psychological testing, laboratory tests and consultation with other specialists. A comprehensive treatment plan may include psychotherapy, ongoing evaluation and monitoring, and in some cases, psychiatric medication. Optimally, this plan is developed with the family, and whenever possible, the child or adolescent is involved in treatment decisions.

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