Depression in Children

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Understanding Depression Slideshow

Quick GuideDepression Pictures Slideshow: Physical Symptoms of Depression

Depression Pictures Slideshow: Physical Symptoms of Depression

What are causes and risk factors for depression in children?

Depression in children does not have one specific cause. Rather, people with this illness tend to have a number of biological, psychological, and environmental contributors to its development. Biologically, depression is associated with a deficient level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, a smaller size of some areas of the brain and increased activity in other parts of the brain. Girls are more likely to be given the diagnosis of depression than boys, but that is thought to be due to, among other things, biological differences based on gender, and differences in how girls are encouraged to interpret their experiences and respond to it as opposed to boys. There is thought to be at least a partially genetic component to the pattern of children, and teens with a depressed parent are as much as four times more likely to also develop the disorder. Children who have depression are more prone to have other biological problems, like low birth weight, trouble sleeping, and to having a mother younger than 18 years old at the time of their birth.

Psychological contributors to depression include low self-esteem, negative body image, being excessively self-critical, and often feeling helpless when dealing with negative events. Children who suffer from conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical anxiety, or who have cognitive or learning problems, as well as trouble engaging in social activities also are have more risk of developing depression.

Depression may be a reaction to life stresses, like trauma, including verbal, physical, or sexual abuse; the death of a loved one; school problems; being bullied; or suffering from peer pressure. Research differs as to whether children who are obese have an increased risk of developing depression.

In addition to the more specific risk factors for childhood depression previously described, other potential contributors to this condition include poverty, exposure to violence, social isolation, parental conflict, divorce, and other causes of disruptions to family life. Children who have limited physical activity, poor school performance, or lose a relationship are at higher risk for developing depression, as well.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/18/2015

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