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Skipper L Harvey, PsyD
January 09, 2014

What Are The Symptoms Of Depression In Children?

For a parent, childhood depression can be difficult to recognize because symptoms of depression in children often look different than symptoms in adults. Children who suffer from depression frequently present with symptoms of sadness and/or irritability beyond what is typical given a child’s stage of development or presenting situation. With this, keep in mind that just because a child is experiencing feelings of sadness or irritability as the result of a life event or stressor, this does not necessarily mean he/she is clinically depressed. However, if the symptoms become persistent, academic performance begins to decline, and social or family life is negatively impacted then it may be time to seek professional help before symptoms worsen. Factors that may contribute to childhood depression include increased academic and social pressures, environment, genetic vulnerability, and biochemical disturbance.

Symptoms of Childhood Depression

Following are signs and symptoms of depression according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

• Irritability or anger
• Persistent sad, anxious, or empty feelings
• Social withdrawal
• Lack of interest in activities or hobbies once found to be enjoyable
• Fatigue and decreased energy
• Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering details
• Change in sleep patterns such as early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
• Overeating or loss of appetite
• Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
• Physical complaints (such as headaches, aches and pains, digestive problems) that do not go away with proper treatment

These signs and symptoms should be above normal expectations for a child’s age and level of development. The key indicator is “impairment in functioning.” Also, the severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms will vary from child to child. Because children go through various stages of development, symptoms of depression are often viewed as simply being a part of normal emotional and psychological changes; however, depression is not a passing mood or a condition that will go away without proper treatment.

Diagnosing Depression in Children

If a child experiences symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, it is advised that an appointment be made immediately with the child’s physician to rule out a medical condition as the cause. A consultation with a mental health professional that specializes in the treatment of children is also recommended. If a mental health evaluation is needed, it should include a clinical interview with parent(s), clinical interview with child, and additional psychological testing if necessary to confirm a diagnosis. Information from teachers may also be a part of this assessment to gain a complete picture of a child’s overall functioning.

Treatment Options

The best studies to date indicate that both psychotherapy and medication are most effective at treating clinical depression. It is critical that family members be involved in the psychotherapy process as they are an integral part of a child’s environment. Often times, psychotherapy is the first line of treatment with medication being considered as an additional option if there is no significant improvement.

A Word about Suicide

As a parent, it is vital that you are aware of the following warning signs of suicide in children. This is not to say that all children who are clinically depressed will be suicidal, but there is the potential for an increased risk if one suffers from this disorder.

• Statement from a child about suicide or that things would be better if they were not around
• Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
• Talk of being hopeless or helpless
• Increased risk-taking behavior without consideration for the consequences
• Substance abuse
• Giving away personal possessions
• Social isolation
• Increase in episodes of crying or reduced emotional expression

Websites for Additional Information on Depression and Children

About Dr. Skipper

Dr. Skipper is a Florida Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works extensively with children, adolescents, and families to provide therapy and psychoeducational assessment services.

She received her doctorate degree from the Florida School of Professional Psychology.  Dr. Skipper has worked with children, adolescents, and families in a variety of settings which include mental health clinics, residential settings, drug treatment facilities, and schools.

Through the integration of a variety of empirically-based treatment approaches, Dr. Skipper assists her clients by providing new skills and empowering strategies to build distress tolerance, enhance awareness and communication, facilitate insight, and challenge maladaptive relationship and thinking patterns. She employs an active therapeutic stance to facilitate long-lasting, positive change. 

Dr. Skipper’s background also includes a B.A. in Elementary Education with 11 years of experience in primary education. 

Disclaimer: The above information is not intended to provide professional advice or diagnostic service. If you have any concerns about Depression and Children or other health issues, please consult a qualified health care professional in your community.