Skip to main content

Depression in Children and Teens: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Most people are not aware of the fact that depression in children does exist…!

Many of us do not realize that just like adults, small children, and teenagers can struggle with varying types of depression and levels of severity. However, adults can recognize and understand the symptoms of depression whereas a child would likely feel confused, frustrated, and even angry because of the symptoms being experienced and no understanding of why. With the information in this article, parents would find it easier to recognize a potential problem and also understand treatments that could be considered.

Depression in Children and Teens: Statistics, Facts, and Considerations

Depression in Children and Teens

When talking about depression, the way it affects a person’s life, and the various methods for dealing with depression, most people make a connection between this mental disorder and adults. Statistics show close to 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million) of U.S. children aged 3-17 years suffer from depression and over 8% of teenagers have depression. [Ref. CDC Data and Statistics]

Although there are fewer small children with depression than there are teens and adults, the latest statistics are still alarming. According to experts, symptoms indicating depression have been identified in children as young as six years of age. Another unnerving statistic is that among children between the ages of nine and twelve, it is estimated that 12% have this mental health condition.

Unlike depression in adults where women are twice as likely to develop the condition as men are, in children, the rate of occurrence is pretty much equal for both genders. According to experts, depression in children is most often hereditary but sadly, as years pass, studies show the age at which a child develops depression is becoming younger and younger.

However, In the case of teenagers, while depression affects both boys and girls, studies show that girls suffer from this disorder at twice the rate as boys do.

We all know teen years are a time of excitement, discovery, and major change but for approximately 4 of every 100 teenagers, it is also a period of coping with depression. It is important to know that all teenagers go through times of feeling sad and down but depression is a completely different beast.

Parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to raising teenagers but when depression is added to the mix, this responsibility takes on an entirely new meaning. There are many challenges associated with this mental health disorder but one particularly concerning is that some teenagers are good at hiding symptoms of depression. This makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify the problem of teenage depression.

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of adults, and when it comes to depression in children, the problem becomes far more serious. Most adults can rationalize to a certain degree about symptoms of and treatment for depression but in children, this is difficult to do.

Dealing with depression in children can be challenging but for the parents, it is a time of uncertainty, fear, and an array of other emotions. However, the goal is for the child to have a firm diagnosis, after which a series of treatment options would be recommended, discussed, and then an appropriate one is chosen.

There are significant differences in how depression would be handled in adults versus children. For instance, an adult could sit down with a psychotherapist to discuss a particular situation and have the ability to follow instructions for change whereby a child would not have this luxury. Even medication used for treating depression in adults would not necessarily be the same when coping with depression in children or at least not at the same dose.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Children and Teenagers

Unfortunately, because many adults are unaware that depression affects small children and teenagers, when things seem amiss, the possibility of a child having this mental disorder is often overlooked. As a result, an already struggling child faces even greater challenges.

On a positive note, by learning the signs of depression, parents can take the appropriate steps quickly so that the child is provided the relief needed. Below are some of the more common signs that a child could be dealing with depression:
  • Sadness, seldom laughing
  • Frustration
  • Temper tantrums
  • Appetite change
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Frequent crying for no reason
  • No desire to be hugged, kissed, or cuddled
  • Trying to avoid going to school, no longer participating in activities, and decline of grades
  • Isolation and little interest in friends
If one or more of these symptoms of childhood depression are noted, the child should first be seen by a trusted doctor. Keep in mind that certain health issues could trigger depression in children. So by getting the child’s medical history, finding out about any recent changes in health, and running some tests, any specific underlying cause that would require a different type of treatment could be ruled in or ruled out.

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Depression

All parents, even those with happy, high-achieving teenagers should be diligent in watching for signs of depression. In many cases, having open communication and spending quality time with a teen can tell a parent a lot but in addition to this, there are distinct signs of teenage depression that parents should learn.

From a doctor’s perspective, a diagnosis of depression would be made if a teenager has any of the symptoms listed below for more than two weeks straight.
  • School performance changes
  • Overwhelming feelings of anxiety and/or guilt
  • A significant change in appetite, whether more or less
  • Showing a defiant and/or destructive behavior
  • Becoming increasingly isolated and persistently unhappy
  • Change in sleep habits to include sleeping more or not getting enough sleep
  • Becoming easily angered and irritated
  • Complaining of physical aches and pains
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • No longer communicating at home, school, and in some cases, with friends
  • Expressing a sense of hopelessness
  • Reduced energy and extreme fatigue
  • Consistently talks about death and/or suicide
Of course, if a parent were to notice radical changes or have any concerns about teenage depression whatsoever, it would be imperative to seek immediate help. The most important thing for a parent to know is that immediate medical and/or mental health care is critical when a teenager is dealing with depression. Sadly, there have been far too many suicides as a result of not getting a child's help. [Read here: The Threat of Suicide]

  See also: Teenage Depression: Statistics, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention 

What Causes Depression in Children and Teens

Before a treatment would be determined for dealing with depression in a child, it would be essential to understand the cause. If a child had been seen by a doctor and the cause was not health-related, parents would need to start considering other possibilities.

Remember, children are affected by divorce, death, major illness, and trauma just as adults are so if a child had faced any such situation, this would likely be the source. If not, parents would need to investigate so that the underlying cause could be identified.

Additional causes of depression in children include the following:

· Mental, emotional, or even sexual abuse
· Bullying
· Recent move to a new neighborhood, city, or state or a close friend that moved away
· Conflict with a friend or family member
· Mental Illness
· Certain prescription medications
· Alcohol and/or drug abuse 

Causes of Teenage Depression

Just as it is important to know the symptoms of teenage depression, parents should also take time to learn about possible causes. While there are still many unanswered questions, the following are some of the known factors that lead to depression during teen years:
  • Genetics
  • Gender
  • Biological Factors
  • Cognitive Factors
  • Situational Factors (includes parental divorce, death of a loved one, poor school grades, alcohol and/or drug use, mental, physical, and/or emotional abuse, and social rejection/peer pressure)

How to Beat and Treat Depression in Children and Teens

In talking about how to treat depression in children, this is accomplished in two ways – prevention and treatment.

Prevention of Depression in Children

There are many ways to prevent sadness from developing into full-fledged depression. Keep in mind that even very small children do an excellent job of hiding true feelings. Especially when living in a single-family home, children want to keep the peace and make the parent happy so when something is wrong, rather than open up it is common for children to put their own emotions aside on behalf of the family.

However, some children act in the complete opposite way. For instance, some small children will start to misbehave when feeling depressed. This might include severe temper tantrums, stealing small items from a store, talking back to parents, or being disrespectful in school. Instead of assuming the child is simply being bad, a parent should recognize the new behavior and consider that depression might be the culprit.

As part of learning how to treat depression in children, here are a few specific points regarding methods for preventing this type of problem from ever developing:

· Listen to the Child – Sometimes, really listening to what a small child is trying to say can be tough. For one thing, we all have extremely busy lives so just getting through the day and handling responsibilities makes it difficult to concentrate on a conversation or even the behavior of a small child. In addition, small children often have a difficult time getting important messages across. Spending one-on-one time with a child daily, asking questions but more importantly listening can reveal a lot. Even if a child’s comments seem odd or silly, they should be taken seriously.

· Regular Routines – Some children have no problem with change while others quickly spiral out of control. Establishing a routine would be critical for all children but most importantly for children who struggle with change. This would include the time of waking up and going to bed, routine for doing homework, and even scheduled family fun time. Interestingly, studies have shown that when children do not get adequate sleep, depression often develops.

· Good Deeds – As parents, a bad habit of reprimanding bad behavior as opposed to praising good behavior forms. Even small words of praise are extremely encouraging to a child, which is why so many experts tell parents who want to know how to stop depression to still discipline but focus on offering praise.

· Affirmation – Children need to know things they feel, think, and believe are affirmed by their parents. For instance, if a child is mad, rather than get upset or sweep the problem under the rug, a child’s emotions and feelings need to be affirmed. For this example, a parent could tell the child that it is understood he or she is upset but also follow up to listen to the reason and offer suggestions for an appropriate resolution.

· Availability – The last thing we wanted to mention with learning how to stop depression in children specific to prevention is that parents must be available. Taking one minute to hug a child at home after school and work, sitting quietly when a child approaches a parent and wants to chat, and scheduling quality time are perfect examples of how a parent can be more available.

Treatment of Depression in Children

The second part of how to treat depression in children is treatment. Before doing anything, the child should be seen by a doctor who could provide a firm diagnosis of depression but also determine its true level of severity. Once a health issue is ruled out and the cause determined, dealing with depression in children would be easier.

Usually, if a child is suffering from a mild case of depression, certain lifestyle changes and at-home treatments would suffice. In addition, using any of the preventative suggestions listed above would be highly beneficial.

If the degree of depression is considered serious, then treatment would be imperative. Again, under the care of a qualified doctor, the child would be examined and diagnosed, after which one or more treatment options would be recommended.

In severe cases, learning how to treat depression in children should always start with a trained doctor, not something parents try to fix on their own. Of course, actual treatment would be on an individual basis since each case is unique.

Keep in mind that there are occasions when a child would need a more aggressive treatment plan, most respond favorably with any of the following treatments:

Counseling & Therapy

· Professional Counseling – Often, meeting with a child counselor or therapist works great in getting a child to reveal the reason or reasons for feeling depressed. Parents like to think that children tell them everything but as mentioned, this is simply not the case. Having the opportunity for a child to sit down with a trained psychologist or psychotherapist could clear up many issues the child is facing. In addition to the child being provided counseling, more than likely some type of family counseling would be recommended.

· Family Therapy – Depression in children is a family affair but all too often, children feel as if they are alone with the way they feel and the problems they are struggling with. When it comes to learning how to stop depression in children, a lot can be said about family therapy and the way it provides support and affirmation to the child.

· Behavioral and/or Cognitive Therapy – These therapies are designed to correct unwanted behaviors and negative thoughts that are often associated with depression. [See more: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)]

· “Fun Therapy – Today, children with depression are being treated with unique forms of therapy that have been shown helpful. Usually, children who have withdrawn, have a hard time with expression, or those not respond to more conventional therapies would be ideal candidates. Examples include horseback riding therapy, swimming therapy, and drama therapy. This in combination with the use of natural herbs for depression can work miracles.


Depending on the child’s type of depression and level of severity, as well as age and any existing health issues, prescription medication might be suggested. At a small dose, children can be prescribed Zoloft or Prozac but only under the careful eye of a qualified doctor.

Alternative Treatments

Certain supplements would also be a possibility but in children, plants, herbs, and essential oils, along with vitamins and minerals can be harsh on a small child’s system so only supplements approved by the doctor should be considered.

Lifestyle Changes

Numerous studies have been performed to see if the change of lifestyle works when dealing with depression and they all show significant improvement. This would include getting a child involved with some kind of sport or activity, offering options for hobbies, getting daily exercise, adopting healthy eating habits, setting a scheduled bedtime, and so on.


The last option for dealing with depression in children we wanted to mention is the value of support. In most cases, a child who is provided with strong family support, as well as support at school and from friends, pulls out of a period of depression quicker and easier than a child without support.

Treatment for Teenage Depression

No matter which of the symptoms of teenage depression a person has or the exact cause, the most critical thing a parent can do is get the child appropriate help. Because of a much better understanding of this disorder by doctors nowadays, new treatments proven to be safe and effective have been developed. Some of the treatments for teenage depression that are commonly used include the following:

· Psychotherapy – This type of treatment offers teenagers a solution that involves communicating emotions and feelings, exploring some of the bothersome things, and learning coping skills.

· Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy – Experts agree that in the treatment of teenage depression, it is essential to provide both types of therapies. Together, a teen has the opportunity to make both mental and behavioral changes for the better. [See more: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)]

· Interpersonal Therapy – As another type of treatment that has been shown extremely beneficial, interpersonal therapy’s focus is on the development of healthy relationships within the home and also at school.

· Medication – Although some parents shy away from prescription medications, there are certain types of depression, as severe cases that respond best to this type of treatment. A qualified doctor would consider everything so only the safest and lowest dose medication would be used. Of course, adjustments could be made accordingly if needed.

· Self-Help – This type of treatment for teenage depression consists of making better choices in life to better oneself. In the case of a teenager, it would be important for parents to offer full support and encouragement. Some of the specific things involved with self-help include adopting a better diet, getting exercise daily, avoiding illicit drugs and alcohol, following a healthy sleep schedule, and overall making healthy lifestyle choices.

· Natural Remedies – We also wanted to mention that in certain cases of teenage depression, natural remedies work incredibly well. No matter the delivery system, as long as high-quality ingredients are used and in conjunction with other ingredients that reduce symptoms of depression, natural remedies for depression have been shown beneficial for mild to moderate cases. (Learn more here on → How to Get Rid of Depression Without Medication)


Other Posts

The Mystery of Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health

Edith Bouvier Beale , commonly known as " Little Edie ," was an American socialite and cousin of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In this article, we explore the life of Edith Bouvier Beale, an enigmatic figure whose struggles with mental health captivated public attention. From her affluent upbringing to her seclusion in " Grey Gardens ," we delve into the complexities of Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health journey. Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health: What We Know (and Don't Know) In the realm of intriguing personalities, Edith Bouvier Beale stands out as a complex figure whose life was marked by both glamour and obscurity. While her name might not ring a bell for everyone, her captivating journey, marred by mental health struggles, has left an indelible mark. Let us delve into the life of Edith Bouvier Beale, exploring her early days, her rise to stardom, her decline into isolation, and the profound impact of mental health challenges on

OCD: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Treatment, Help, Cure

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder , more commonly known as  OCD , is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder and is characterized by way of persistent, undesired thought processes (obsessions) and/or repeating actions (compulsions). Obsession, in this case, is highly unpleasant as the individual is compelled to repeat certain behaviors again and again. The condition, most of the time, is anxiety-related and the  thoughts are unwanted and intrusive . Sufferers often understand that these thoughts are irrational, but by performing compulsive behavior, they believe they will be cured or will be relieved. Recurring actions such as hand washing (to avoid catching germs), counting numbers, checking things over, or cleaning are frequently carried out with the anticipation of avoiding compulsive thoughts or making them disappear altogether. This is to avoid their obsession turning into reality. OCD is a common mental condition that affects 2.5 million adults or

Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life: How to Get Over It

Do you have a fear of diseases? Have you ever thought of a simple headache to be a brain tumor, or a slight stomach ache as an intestinal blockage? Have people ever called you crazy because of your obsession with health and hygiene? Are you gripped by a constant fear of being terminally ill? Have you ever self-diagnosed yourself by checking the symptoms online? Are you aware of the symptoms of various diseases because you constantly look them up online? Do you keep getting tests done (often by different doctors)? Is no reassurance enough to prove that you are not sick? You know that but are never satisfied. Is that you? If the answer to most of these questions is yes, you probably are a hypochondriac. But if " Health anxiety is ruining my life " is something you can relate to, this article will help you overcome it. Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life If you're constantly worried about their health and always convinced that you are sick, then you may