Depression is not just a condition that many adults face - it can also affect children and teens. Depression in children is common and affects 1% to 2% of children and 3% to 8% of teens. Before puberty, depression is just as common in boys and girls. After puberty, girls are twice as likely to become depressed compared to boys.

Depression has been linked to various issues in children and teens:

  • lower school performance
  • a higher risk of suicide
  • lower work performance
  • being in trouble with the law
  • a higher risk of drug or alcohol abuse
  • early pregnancy

Parents may wonder if their child is at a higher risk of depression. Table 1 lists some of the factors that put a child at risk of depression.

Table 1: Factors that put a child at higher risk of depression
  • having a chronic illness (like diabetes)
  • being female
  • family history of depression
  • childhood neglect or abuse
  • loss of a loved one, parent, or romantic relationship
  • having anxiety disorder
  • having a comorbid illness such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or a learning disability

It is important that parents not look at symptoms of depression as just a phase in their child's life. Table 2 lists some of the common symptoms of depression. If your child has these symptoms and you are concerned, you should make an appointment to talk to your doctor. Remember that even if your child has depression, he/she may still be able to have fun and enjoy spending time with friends. This does not mean that he/she does not have depression. This is a very common misunderstanding about depression in children and adolescents.

Table 2: Symptoms of depression
  • depressed or irritable mood on most days
  • loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • large changes in weight or appetite
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • fatigue or loss of energy
  • feeling worthless
  • not able to think or concentrate
  • thoughts of death

If your child is diagnosed with depression, there are many treatments that have been shown to work. One of the most commonly selected treatments is talk therapy with a doctor or therapist. This helps the child identify and steer clear of the negative thoughts and beliefs that cause their symptoms. If a child does not respond to talk therapy, many physicians will try antidepressant medications. The combination of talk therapy with drug therapy has been shown to be the most effective treatment and can improve depression in 60% of teens.

Although there is a very small increase risk of suicide when antidepressants are started, not treating depression is also associated with suicide. Therefore, parents should talk to their doctor about any of their concerns and how they should monitor their child. With the right treatment, your child can live a healthy and productive life.