Childhood Depression

Depression in Children

How to identify Childhood Depression

Childhood depression is different from the normal “blues” and everyday emotions. Depression in children is more than just feeling sad. It affects thinking, mood and behaviour. Children experiencing depression often feel negative and hopeless about their situation and their future. If your child is depressed, it can be hard for them to learn, make friends and make the most of daily life because they may lack confidence, attention and motivation. If depression goes on for a long time without treatment, the way your child learns and grows can also be affected. The key difference between “being sad” and “being depressed” is if the sadness persists and is disruptive to normal social activities, schoolwork or family life. It is important to note that children with depression are often undiagnosed because they are passed off as “being emotional”. Children often find it difficult to explain how they are feeling, especially when depressed, so may express their feelings with challenging behaviour.

Symptoms of Childhood Depression

If you notice at least five of the following symptoms for longer than about two weeks, your child might be at risk of depression:

  • Report they are not motivated and “don’t want to do anything”
  • Do not enjoy things they used to
  • Difficulty being attentive and staying on task
  • Exhibit negative self-talk
  • Isolate and avoid spending time with friends
  • Pessimism, unable to identify the positives
  • Difficult to make happy
  • Express anger or seem “always irritable”
  • Increase in tearfulness
  • Appetite fluctuations e.g. not eat or binge
  • Problems with sleep, e.g. over sleeping or difficulties staying asleep

Does Depression look different in adolescence?

Teenage depression is medically no different from adult depression, but symptoms in teens may manifest differently due to their life stage and developmental challenges (e.g. peer pressure and a change in sports performance, changing hormone levels, developing bodies). Symptoms of depression and adolescents include:

  • Sad or irritable
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities
  • No motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Major changes in sleeping habits
  • Regular complaints of boredom
  • Talk of suicide
  • Withdrawal from friends or after-school activities
  • Worsening school performance
  • Self-medicating behaviours (alcohol or drugs)

What causes it?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that as many as 1 in 20 children and adolescents have depression. Depression is significantly more common in boys under age 10; but by the age of 16, girls have a higher rate of depression. Depression in children can be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, life events, family history and environment. Genetic vulnerability also plays a key role, with studies showing that 25% of kids who have a parent who has suffered from clinical depression will experience their own episode.


Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that will go away without proper treatment. Psychological treatment of choice for childhood depression is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), with a strong behavioural component, whereas Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) may also be used for depression in adolescents. Please refer to treatment sections for more information or book a free 15min telephone consultation to discuss treatment options further.


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