Here Are Signs That Your Child May Have Depression

This is the season of seasonal depression. Children can also have seasonal affective disorder , but they can also suffer from depression. While many children are described as anxious, fewer children are described as depressive . The CDC estimates that 2.7 American children had depression before the pandemic , and we know the data shows that the numbers have been steadily rising since then.

Here’s what to look out for and what to do if you suspect your child has depression.

What are the signs of depression in children?

Depression in children can manifest itself in different ways. Here are some things parents should look out for Dr. Georgina Garcia, Behavioral Health Psychiatrist at Franciscan Orphanage :

  • Loss of interest in usual or interesting activities
  • Downgrades
  • Mood changes such as increased irritability, tearfulness, or mood swings.
  • Changes in behavior regarding sleep, appetite, or energy
  • Increased isolation; less social interaction with peers
  • Somatic complaints such as abdominal pain or headaches
  • Self-harm (scratching, cutting)
  • Report thoughts of wanting to die or kill yourself, even with humor

Symptoms in children may differ from those in adults. “Children don’t always have the language to describe their emotions — instead of saying they’re depressed, kids often use the term ‘bored’,” says Garcia.

While adults often have physical symptoms, sometimes children only show physical symptoms, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, and do not appear as “sad” or moody as an adult with depression might.

What to do if you think your child has depression

If you suspect your child is in danger of being killed or harmed, seek help immediately. In the US, you can dial “988” to contact Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for 24/7 help via phone or chat. Or visit their website (formerly the National Suicide Lifeline). Or: “If the child’s safety is of immediate concern, the parent should take the child to the nearest emergency room for evaluation,” Garcia says.

If you suspect your child has depression but is not in immediate danger, Garcia says, “Parents should first seek professional evaluation and support from a pediatrician. The pediatrician will know what questions to ask and what signs to look for, and if necessary, the pediatrician can recommend a good child psychiatrist or child psychologist.” You can also try to get mental health care directly, although there are often long waiting lists. However, for the sake of your child’s mental well-being, it is worth continuing.

“While it’s important to bring their child to a professional, parents need to know that they know their child best,” Garcia says. “If their child has experienced changes in mood, interests, and behavior, parents are critical to identifying these symptoms early and can help get their child into mental health care.” Sometimes a teacher or other trusted adult notices these changes, but more often than not, it’s the parents who can track these patterns in their children and get them the help they need as soon as possible.

What to do if your child is diagnosed with depression

To receive formal treatment for depression, your child must be diagnosed by a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or psychologist. From here, says Garcia, “talk therapy is usually the first line of intervention.” Often it looks like this: the child meets with a psychologist or social worker about once a week and talks about his feelings and helps develop coping skills. Sometimes therapy is done in conjunction with a school, on campus, or may be in a private facility. Many insurance plans and Medicaid cover therapy, but you should always check with your plan.

If depression continues even with treatment, “the clinician or pediatrician may recommend medication and/or refer you to a child and adolescent psychiatrist to see if the medication is right for the child,” Garcia says. Depression is often treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs such as Prozac or Zoloft. Some children respond very well to these medications, while others have problems with side effects or cannot take them for other health reasons. You and your child’s medical team will need to discuss the best course of treatment for your child.

Will a child with a diagnosis struggle with depression for the rest of their lives?

If you’ve experienced depression, it could be for a short time, or it could be something you’ve dealt with all your life. Garcia says it’s not a lifelong diagnosis for your child.

“The good news is that depression can improve with treatment and the child will no longer need therapy or medication,” she says. “While this may occasionally recur, studies show that treating depressive episodes reduces the risk of future episodes of depression.” So by helping your child acknowledge and relate to their feelings now, you are setting them up for more sustainable and successful mental health patterns in the future.


Leave a Reply