Depression in Children and Teens

Children and teens can have depression just like adults. But they may not show it in the same ways as adults do.

Children are likely to show that they are depressed by:

  • Being in a bad mood more often.
  • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual.
  • Having trouble at school or not wanting to go to school.
  • Eating a lot more or less than usual.
  • Having trouble with their school work or grades.
  • Having big mood swings (happy to sad, or happy to angry). 
  • Spending more time alone.
  • Having little or no interest in things they used to enjoy. 
  • Crying a lot or acting sad. 
  • No longer caring about the future.
  • Feeling aches and pains when nothing is physically wrong. 
  • Starting to use alcohol or drugs.

Sometimes children and teens will have thoughts of death or suicide. Parents and guardians need to take these threats seriously. Have your child checked as soon as possible. If your child has harmed himself or herself or has a plan to do so, call 911 right away or take your child to the nearest emergency room (ER).

You know your child best, so it is important to look for the types of changes in behavior noted above compared to how your child usually feels and acts. All children go through some of these things once in a while. But if these changes go on for 2 weeks or more, you should talk about it with your child’s health care provider.

How can you get help for your child? 

  • The best treatment is a combination of talk therapy and medicine. Talk therapy can help children learn how to deal better with stress and turn negative thoughts into positive ones. 
  • A type of talk therapy called cognitive therapy is very effective for helping with depression. Ask your child’s provider about getting this type of help for your child. 
  • There are special medicines that help with the changes in the brain that cause depression. 
  • If you need to find a therapist for your child or need to have your child checked for depression, contact the Member Services number for your county, and they will help find a therapist close to your home. 

Source: The National Institute for Mental Health

Other important links

University of Michigan Depression Center for information on how to talk to your health care provider.

American Academy of Pediatrics for more information about suicide prevention