sad little boy sits at the dining table and looking in the plate. horizontal

In kids, depression can appear as “bad moods” or irritability that lasts for a long time, even if a child doesn’t acknowledge being sad. As many as 1 in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as 1 in 8.

If you think your child has symptoms of depression, it’s important to take action. Talk with your child and your doctor or others who know your child well. Many parents dismiss their concerns, thinking they’ll go away, or avoid acting because they may feel guilty or prefer to solve family problems privately.

Parents can help children through the maze of depression by looking for and recognizing the symptoms of depression in kids. If your child has exhibited five or more of these symptoms for longer than 2 weeks and if these symptoms are not connected to any other medical or psychiatric condition, you might want to consider an evaluation by a mental health professional that specializes in depression in children:

  • Persistent feelings of irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • Continuous feelings of sadness, hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection
  • Changes in appetite — either increased or decreased
  • Changes in sleep — sleeplessness or excessive sleep
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests
  • A lack of caring about what happens in the future
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Low self-esteem or feelings or worthlessness. A child may make such statements as, “I’m bad. I’m stupid. No one likes me.”
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Headaches, stomachaches or other physical pains that seem to have no cause.
  • Changes in activity level. The child either becomes more
  • Lethargic or more hyperactive.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

What Causes Depression In Children?

Depression usually isn’t caused by one event or reason. In most cases, it’s the result of several factors, which vary from person to person.

Depression can be caused by lowered levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry signals through the nervous system) in the brain, which limits a person’s ability to feel good. Genetics are likely involved as depression can run in families, so someone with a close relative who has depression may be more likely to have it.

Significant life events (such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a move to a new area, and even a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend) can bring on symptoms of depression. Stress also can be a factor, and because the teen years are a time of emotional and social turmoil, things that are difficult for anyone to handle can be devastating to a teen.

Also, chronic illness can contribute to depression, as can the side effects of certain medicines or infections.

We do know that certain children have risk factors in their lives which could predispose them to depression or could “trigger” depression. Among these are a family history of mental illness or suicide, abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), chronic illness and the loss of a parent at an early age to death, divorce or abandonment. However, some infants exhibit depressive symptoms at an early age before most of these factors come into play, so there is an argument to be made for depression being wholly chemical in some children. Each child’s depression is individual, and causes will be different for each one. The depression could be wholly chemical, wholly due to psychological factors, or a combination of the two. More important than the cause is identifying the illness and treating it.

Getting Help for Your Child

Your first consultation should be with your child’s pediatrician, who probably will do a complete examination to rule out physical illness.

If depression is suspected, the doctor may refer you to a:

  • psychiatrist: a medical doctor who can make a diagnosis, offer treatment, and prescribe medicine
  • psychologist: a health professional who can diagnose and treat depression but is unable to write prescriptions
  • licensed clinical social worker: a person who has a degree in social work and is qualified to treat childhood depression

When it comes to managing your child’s depression, all of these health professionals can help. The important thing is that your child feels comfortable with the person. If it’s not a good fit, find another.

Your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, or school psychologist also might be able to help. These professionals have your child’s welfare at heart and all information shared with them during therapy is kept confidential.

If you would like to find out more information about if your child is depressed or arrange an appointment with a doctor at our practice, please feel free to contact us at 919-636-5240 or email office@cognitive-psychiatry.com.

Live Mentally Healthy,

Dr. Heather Rogers
Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill

Dr Heather Rogers