How to Recognize and Treat Childhood Depression
What is childhood depression?
Depression is an illness that affects the
child’s thinking, feelings, behavior, and
physical health. Like other illnesses,
depression is not a weakness or under the
child’s control to change. It is more than a
sad day or a normal reaction to
disappointment. Depression persists, lasting
for weeks to months. It exists in about 5%
of children and teens. Children who are ill
or who have had a trauma or significant
change in their routine are even more prone
to becoming depressed.
How do we recognize childhood
While the impact of depression can be great,
it is sometimes hard to identify a child who
is depressed. Youngsters do not always
show signs of depression in the same way
adults do. Many children do not know how
to express their feelings or do not do so for
fear of being different or thought of
negatively. Depressed youngsters are often
unable to tell us that they are depressed.
The youngster may not always seem sad.
Parents and teachers may not realize that
their behavior is a symptom of depression.
These signs or changes can suggest a child
or teen might be depressed.
Persistent Changes in Mood
ξ Sadness – feeling sad, blue, “down in
ξ Boredom or trouble feeling pleasure
(even in things that once brought
ξ Excess or inappropriate feelings of
ξ A change in attitude toward school
Changes in Thinking
ξ Feelings of worthlessness (“I am
ξ Feeling unloved and unlovable (“No
one likes me.”)
ξ Feelings of hopelessness (“It will
never get better or change.” I’ll
never be able to…”)
ξ Feelings of helplessness (“I can’t do
it.” “I’m not good enough.”)
ξ Thoughts of death, wishing to be
dead, or suicidal intent (“I wish I’d
never wake up.” “I just want to die.”)
Changes in Behavior
ξ An overall change in activity level
ξ Aggressive behavior
ξ Misbehavior at home or school
ξ Change in attitude toward school;
frequent absences from school, or
decline in school performance
ξ Withdrawal from friends; staying
alone more often
ξ Decreased interest in pleasant events
ξ Poor concentration, decreased focus
ξ Abuse of alcohol or other drugs (in
order to feel better and escape)
Changes in Bodily Functions
ξ Frequent complaints of physical
illness like headaches and
ξ Sleeping too much or disturbed sleep
such as waking up in the nighttime
and having trouble getting back to
ξ Change in appetite, eating habits,
weight gain or loss
ξ Loss of energy
Why is my child depressed?
Depression is often caused by a number of
factors. Depression can be inherited. It may
be due to things that happen to the child
such as illness, stress, grief, or changes in
the body’s chemistry. Children who have
problems with attention, learning, or
conduct are at greater risk.
What is the treatment for childhood
Treatment depends on the type of
depression, its causes, and its severity.
Treatment may include having the child talk
to a trained professional (counseling), taking
anti-depressant medicine, or both. You and
your child’s doctor will work together to
find the best treatment for your child.
Childhood depression is very responsive to
treatment. It may take a few weeks for the
symptoms to start to go away once treatment
is started. Improvement is often slow and
subtle. It takes time.
What should you do if you suspect your
child is depressed?
Thinking that your child is depressed can be
unsettling and even frightening. Early
diagnosis and treatment can help. Contact a
qualified professional such as psychologist,
pediatrician, or school counselor.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright 11/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and
Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6327