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Understanding Depression in Children and Teenagers: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Medically reviewed by

Written by Shloka Sucharita

Depression is a pervasive mood disorder, but severe depression can become a serious problem. An individual with depression shows symptoms that affect a person’s daily activities, such as eating, sleeping, or working. It also affects how a person feels or thinks. 

Depression in children and teens is a serious and genuine issue; all ages, races, and genders can be affected by depression.

The Importance of Recognizing Depression in Children and Teenagers

Research has shown that childhood depression often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, especially if it goes untreated. The presence of depression in children also tends to be a predictor of more severe illnesses in adulthood. If depression is diagnosed in the early stages, then severe depressive illness can be prevented. In teenagers, depression can become a major risk factor for suicide, and a lot of teenage suicide victims experience depressive disorder at the time of death. 

Why Focusing on Children and Teenagers is Crucial

Childhood and adolescence are crucial phases in a person’s life span, particularly concerning mental health. In these periods, rapid brain growth and development can be witnessed. During these phases, children and adolescents develop their cognitive and socio-emotional skills. These skills play an important role in shaping future mental well-being and help prepare them to become responsible adults in society. Depression in adolescence may also lead to an increased risk of suicide. Early detection is important to treat a child or adolescent before the problem becomes severe or irreversible.

Identifying Depression in Children

A child with depression may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, or cling to a parent. Older children may sulk, get into trouble, be irritable, and feel misunderstood. As these signs can be viewed as normal mood swings typical of children as they move through developmental stages, it may be difficult to diagnose a young person with depression accurately.

Common Symptoms of depression in Children

There are various symptoms of depression, and this condition often goes undiagnosed because such symptoms are termed normal emotional or psychological changes. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and changes in mood are the primary symptoms of depression. 

  • Persistent Sadness
  • Loss of Interest
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Physical Complaints
  • Withdrawal
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Feelings of Guilt or Worthlessness
  • Frequent Complaints of Boredom

These symptoms of depression in children are not true for all; most will show different symptoms in different situations. Kids with depression show noticeable changes in their daily lives, like bad academic performance, changes in their appearance, etc. 

Behavioral and Emotional Changes to Watch For

Children experience occasional sadness, show irritability, or become negative sometimes; however, if these symptoms last for more than two weeks,. Children with depression show various behavioral changes, emotional signs, and cognitive symptoms like being in a bad mood, being self-critical, showing a lack of energy and effort, not enjoying things they usually do, not sleeping or eating, may experience aches and pains that don't exist. Watch out for any signs or symptoms that relate to depression and seek professional help. 

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Depression in Teenagers: A Closer Look

Depression in adolescence comes at a time of great personal change—when they are forming an identity distinct from their parents, grappling with gender issues, and making decisions for the first time. Depression in adolescence frequently co-occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, disruptive behavior, eating disorders, or substance abuse. It can also lead to an increased risk of suicide.

How Depression Manifests in Teenagers

Depression, a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, isn't just an adult issue. It affects teenagers too and often manifests differently than in older individuals. One might wonder, What are signs of depression in a teenager? try recognizing these hidden signs of depression under sadness, irritability, anger, and apathy that are more common in teens, and it’s crucial to intervene early. Look for changes in behavior, such as social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, and changes in sleep or appetite. Changes during adolescence can make it difficult to diagnose depression; creating a safe space for open communication can help greatly. 

The Role of Social Media and Peer Pressure

Endless streams of perfect lives online create a distorted reality, that causes low self-esteem. Constant comparison creates envy and social anxiety, especially during adolescence, online harassment can also make them feel isolated and ostracized leading to depressive symptoms. The desire to fit in can be overwhelming, leading teens to engage in risky behaviors or adopt unhealthy habits to please their peers. This constant pressure can trigger stress and anxiety, leading to depression. Peer pressure often goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse and reckless behavior. 

Types of depression in Children and Teenagers

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): when a child gets easily angered, feels sad and hopeless, or has an improper sleeping pattern, he might be suffering from MDD
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): it is milder than MDD; the symptoms are the same but last longer and may fluctuate for years. 
  • Bipolar Disorder: it is when an individual faces unusual mood swings, energy levels, or difficulty concentrating, which makes daily tasks difficult.
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): a child might show anger and become aggressive which may not resonate with the kid’s age. 
  • Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood: a group of symptoms, such as feeling sad, hopeless, or stressed, might occur after a traumatic life experience. 
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): the symptoms are similar to MDD, but they fluctuate with different seasons.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): this happens after a child gets their first period; they might show various symptoms of depression around the period every month. 
  • Psychotic Depression: this is when a person is suffering from severe depression and shows psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusional thinking. 

Causes and Risk Factors

There are many causes of depression; some children might have genes that make them prone to depression, and others go through trauma and hardships that can make them sad and depressed.

Genetic and Environmental Influences

Specific genes related to neurotransmitter regulation, stress response, and brain development may play a role in experiencing depression. However, it's important to remember that these genes don't guarantee depression; they just increase the risk. Environmental factors like traumatic childhood experiences, academic pressure, substance abuse, or any medical condition play a role in depression. 

The Impact of Family and School Life

Depression in teenagers blooms within family and school life. Close bonds, open communication, and a supportive environment can help nurture resilience. But other factors like bullying, conflict, pressure, and isolation can negatively impact a teen. Unrealistic expectations, parental struggles, academic woes, and social isolation can affect their self-worth and emotional well-being. Addressing these causes can create a healthy environment for a teen to learn and grow without getting into depression. 

Diagnosis and Seeking Help

If there’s any suspicion of depression in teens/children seek help from a professional. They can conduct an overall assessment; the child’s pediatrician may manage rating scales and other types of evaluation to determine the degree of depression and may suggest connecting with a reliable psychiatrist or a psychotherapist. A child/teen may need treatment for depression when their school, social, or home functioning is primarily affected by depressive symptoms for more than two weeks. The involvement of parents and caregivers is necessary to initially diagnose depression in children and help them. Creating a safe environment, encouraging them to adopt healthy habits, and setting a routine to keep their minds occupied helps.  

Treatment and Support Strategies

A mental health professional can conduct various assessments to find out about depressive illness and may suggest connecting with a reliable psychiatrist or psychotherapist. They can further draft a suitable treatment plan and guide various support strategies.

Professional Treatment Options

The treatment depends on the clinical condition, age, and situation of the child. For mild to moderate depression, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is the common first-line treatment option, along with the antidepressant medications SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). Depression in children and teenagers is also treated with psychotherapy and a mixture of medicines, generally an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer. For kids younger than 10, other modalities of psychotherapy like play therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and behavior therapy are preferred by trusted treatment centers for depression.

Supporting a Child or Teenager at Home

Supporting a child or teenager with depression is a journey; be patient in your approach. Help them with their medication and therapy appointments; create a supportive environment where they feel comfortable expressing their fears and difficulties. Try building their resilience by encouraging them to have open communication. Encourage regular physical activity, balanced meals, and sufficient sleep. Help them identify and manage stress triggers, and encourage them to try relaxation techniques. Parents and educators can help them by executing these few techniques for a brighter future for the child or teenager.

How Cadabams Empower Young Individuals with Depression

At Cadabams, we provide a child or teenager suffering from depression with the best treatment option suitable for them. Our experienced professionals conduct various assessments and interviews to determine the intensity of depression and start a treatment plan accordingly. We provide a safe space for them to communicate with comfort and also focus on a more holistic approach to treatment. Our focus is not only on treating the individual but also on providing them with a building block for their future by making them resilient. 


Book screening with our director of triage,  Kamlesh Verma

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1. What are the symptoms of depression in a child?

Children with depression may exhibit changes in mood, behavior, and physical well-being. Look for persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, low energy, and difficulty concentrating. Early identification and intervention are crucial.

2. What is the main reason for child depression?

Child depression likely arises from a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors, not a single definitive cause. Research suggests genetics contribute to susceptibility, while stressful events, family dynamics, and the social environment can act as triggers.

3. What are the 3 most common treatments for depression?

The 3 most common treatments are psychotherapy like CBT, the medication that helps regulate different moods, and lifestyle changes like exercise, sleep schedule, and healthy routines. Individual treatment plans consider specific needs and may combine these approaches.

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