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Depression in Children and Teens: Catch the Warning Signs

teenage boy sitting in a hallway

Everyone feels sad, frustrated and even hopeless at times. So how can you tell the difference between a bad mood and major depression? How do you know if your child is showing signs of depression or just going through a temporary “phase”? How do you spot depression in a teenager when most of them are moody and sleep strange hours anyway?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a common but serious illness and the leading disability of Americans between ages 15 and 44. Most people who experience depression need medical treatment to improve. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it can be. Knowing the warning signs of depression gives you a better chance of detecting it early and you can seek medical help for yourself or your loved one sooner.

The Basics

Each year, 16 million American adults experience a major depressive episode. This means their symptoms are severe and stand in the way of with their ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy life. Some people experience this only once; others have repeated episodes throughout their lives.

Persistent depressive disorder refers to a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years, often with multiple major depressive episodes followed by periods with less severe symptoms.

Common depression symptoms include

Emotional

  • Constant sadness, moodiness, anxiety or feeling “empty”
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once considered enjoyable
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Physiological

  • Persistent body pain or headaches
  • Stomach cramps or digestive problems that don’t get better with medication
  • Fatigue, decreased energy, insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions

 

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Depression in Children and Teens

About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18. Before puberty, depression affects boys and girls at the same rate, but by age 15, girls are twice as likely to have experienced a major depressive episode. Depressed adolescents often show slightly different signs than adults.

Young children who are depressed may

  • Constantly complain of feeling sick
  • Pretend to be sick
  • Refuse to go to school
  • Cling to a parent or caregiver
  • Excessively worry that a parent will die

Teens who are depressed may

  • Sulk
  • Get into trouble
  • Be gloomy or grouchy
  • Feel misunderstood

If your child or teenager is exhibiting signs of depression, consult a medical professional as soon as possible to discuss a diagnosis and treatment options.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

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