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 the symptoms and warning signs of depression in children?

Clinical depression, also called major depression, is more than sadness that lasts for a day or two. In true depressive illnesses, the symptoms last weeks, months, or sometimes years if not treated. Depression often results in the sufferer being unable to perform daily activities, such as getting out of bed or getting dressed, performing well at school, or playing with peers. General symptoms of major depression, regardless of age, include having a depressed mood or irritability or difficulty experiencing pleasure for at least two weeks and having at least five of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or blue and/or irritable
  • Significant appetite changes, with or without significant weight loss, failing to gain weight appropriately or gaining excessive weight
  • Change in sleep pattern: trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Physical agitation or retardation (for example, restlessness or feeling slowed down)
  • Fatigue or low energy/loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Children with depression may also experience the classic symptoms but may exhibit other symptoms as well, including

  • impaired performance of schoolwork,
  • persistent boredom,
  • quickness to anger,
  • frequent physical complaints, like headaches and stomachaches,
  • more risk-taking behaviors and/or showing less concern for their own safety.

Examples of risk-taking behaviors in children include unsafe play, like climbing excessively high or running in the street.

Parents of children with depression often report noticing the following behavior changes in the child:

  • Crying more often or more easily
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism or other negative experiences
  • More irritable mood than usual or compared to others their age and gender, leading to vocal or physical outbursts, defiant, destructive, angry or other acting out behaviors
  • Eating patterns, sleeping patterns, or significant increase or decrease in weight change, or the child fails to achieve appropriate gain weight for their age
  • Unexplained physical complaints (for examples, headaches or abdominal pain)
  • Social withdrawal, in that the youth spends more time alone, away from friends and family
  • Developing more "clinginess" and more dependent on certain relationships (This is not as common as social withdrawal.)
  • Overly pessimistic, hopeless, helpless, excessively guilty or feeling worthless
  • Expressing thoughts about hurting him or herself or engaging in reckless or other potentially harmful behavior
  • Young children may act younger than their age or than they had before (regress).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/18/2015

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