Childhood Depression

What is childhood depression?
Just like adults, children can also suffer from depression. However, they may not be able to express what they are feeling and ask for help. It is important for the adults around them to understand the basic facts about childhood depression so they can help the child.
Only in the past two decades has depression in children been taken very seriously. The depressed child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that the parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative, grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Depression is a medical condition that can affect brain chemistry. It is important to understand that your child, or anyone with depression, cannot just "snap out of it" or will himself to feel better. A child with depression typically feels a constant sense of discouragement, a loss of self-worth and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Without treatment, symptoms can last for months or even years. Depression is typically marked by a long-term change in mood, personality or behaviour, says William R. Beardslee, M.D., Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Children's Hospital Boston.

What causes childhood depression?
There is no single theory completely explains the increase of depression in children .
Today’s Nuclear family set up, childs perception of parenting style, inadequate learning to deal with stressful situation, inadequate coping mechanism and competitative nature of parents - all these can be a contributory factor for depression.
Even more than adults, children are affected by events such as the death of a loved-one, break-up of a relationship, or a parent's divorce. Another contributor to depression for children can be a child's failure to accomplish tasks, such as learning to read, or keep up with peers in other activities.

How common is childhood depression?
Depression in children has dramatically increased in recent years with approximately 3 to 5 percent of preteens and up to 15 percent of teenagers suffering from depression.

Myths about Childhood Depression:

• Children are not immune to depression

A myth exists which says that childhood is always a happy, carefree time in our lives. The truth is, depression is a biologically-based illness and children can fall prey to it just like adults. We might expect that children experiencing extreme stress due to events such as divorce or abuse might be at risk, but even children who seem to have a "perfect" life can suffer from depression.
• Childhood is a carefree, trouble-free period in our lives.
How many people can say that they didn’t worry about peer acceptance, grades, or parental expectations? Adults often forget that children are powerless and have no control over their own lives. This can be a frightening and frustrating state of affairs to live through day after day.


  • Persistent sadness and/or irritability.
  • 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.
  • Change in appetite (either increase or decrease).
  • Change in sleep patterns (either increase or decrease).
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Anger and rage
  • 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.

Any change in a child’s behavior that seems to have no external or physical cause should be looked at. A low mood which results from a loss (death of a loved one, moving, changing schools) which lasts more than a few weeks should be considered possible depression and checked out.
If the child has bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, these symptoms could be present:

  • abrupt, rapid mood swings
  • periods of extreme hyperactivity
  • prolonged, explosive temper tantrums or rages
  • exaggerated ideas about self or abilities

In addition, children and young adolescents with depression may have difficulty in properly identifying and describing their internal emotional or mood states. For example, instead of communicating how bad they feel, they may act out and be irritable toward others, which may be interpreted simply as misbehavior or disobedience.

Psychopharmacological intervention
Play therapy
Cognitive behaviour therapy
Behaviour therapy
Coping skill training

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