It is normal for young children to experience feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration at times: it's a natural part of growing up. Teenagers are typically expected to be moody -- you might even think something is wrong if your teen isn't taking you on an emotional roller coaster. But, when these negative feelings persist and begin to impact daily activities, there may be an underlying problem. Many people think that only adults experience depression, but that is not the case. Depression in young children and teenagers is common, yet it's often overlooked or misdiagnosed. That’s why we’ve outlined everything you need to know about spotting depression in your child or teenager.
Signs of Depression in Children and Teens
Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that can cause a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It can also lead to problems with sleep, appetite, and energy. There are many signs and symptoms of depression, some of the most common being:
- Feeling sad or down for more than two weeks.
- Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
- Feeling tired or exhausted all the time.
- Changes in appetite, either eating too much or too little.
- Difficulty sleeping, or oversleeping.
- Persistent feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions.
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
The cause of depression is not always known. However, many factors can increase the risk, including:
- Trauma, neglect, or abuse.
- A family history of depression.
- Having other mental health conditions.
- Substance abuse.
- Bullying or being bullied.
How Depression Presents in Young Children
often looks different than it does in adults. It is important to know the different ways that it manifests to be able to spot it in your child. Some of the same symptoms adults face may present themselves differently since children don’t express themselves or articulate their emotions the same way an adult would. Some signs to look out for in a young child include:
- Caring less about school than normal or not performing as well in school as usual.
- Thinking everything is their fault or feeling like they aren’t good at anything.
- Physical complaints such as frequent headaches or stomach aches.
- Spending less time with friends or after-school activities.
- Throwing tantrums or acting out.
- Becoming more clingy than they used to be.
- Not enjoying things as much as they used to.
Sometimes, parents can’t tell if their child is depressed. It is important to ask your child verbally how they feel or if anything is bothering them. When asked directly, some children may say they feel sad, while others may say they want to hurt themselves or be dead. These statements should be taken very seriously because depressed children and adolescents are at increased risk for self-harm. If you think your child is depressed, you should seek help through your and .
How Depression Presents in Teens
can manifest differently than in young children. For example, young children may act out or become very clingy, while teenagers may become withdrawn and secretive. Since it is natural for teens to go through emotional ups and downs or behavioral changes, it can be hard to distinguish between what is normal teenage behavior and what you should be worried about. Some signs to look out for in adolescents are:
- Alcohol and drug abuse.
- Social isolation.
- Poor school performance or frequent absences from school (skipping school).
- Agitation or restlessness.
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors.
- Paying less attention to personal hygiene or appearance.
- Slowed thinking or body movements.
- Decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain.
- Self-harm, including cutting, burning, or excessive piercing and tattooing.
- Making a suicide plan or suicide attempt.
While some teens may exhibit primarily emotional symptoms, others may struggle with physical problems. For instance, adolescents may engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse as a way to cope with their depression. Depressed teenagers may be at risk of suicide, even when symptoms don’t appear to be severe, so parents must remain vigilant and look out for any changes in their child’s behavior, mood, or overall health.
How to Get Help
Depression symptoms likely won’t get better on their own, and they may get worse or lead to other problems if left untreated. Talk with your child and try to determine whether they seem capable of managing challenging feelings, or if life seems overwhelming for them.
If depression signs and symptoms continue, if they begin to interfere with your child’s daily life, or if they cause you to have concerns about your child’s safety, don’t wait to seek help. When you are concerned about your child’s mental health, the best place to start is with their . They can do a physical exam to rule out any other health conditions, do a detailed history and screen for depression and other mental health issues, and refer you to a mental health specialist if needed. When necessary, your pediatrician is often able to prescribe medications in conjunction with therapy. If things become more complicated, your pediatrician can refer you to psychiatry. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for depression, but therapy and medication are often effective. With the right treatment, your child or teen can recover from depression and live a happy and healthy life.
offers and support for your child, with treatment options ranging from medications and therapy to family counseling and parent support. If you believe your child is suffering from depression, schedule an appointment today.
If your child needs pediatric care, offers top-tier pediatric care to families throughout Northern Virginia. Our dedicated team is committed to providing everything from to . All of our providers, including those at our and Herndon locations, are accepting new patients and would be happy to reconnect with our existing families. online, or find a today.