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Symptoms of Depression in Children


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.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.

Overall, the most important factor is change. 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.

Companion Illnesses

Depression often goes hand-in-hand with other mental illnesses or disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder, and, especially in teenage girls, eating disorders and self-injury. If any of these conditions are present, they need to be treated along with the depression for treatment to be effective. You can read about these illnesses here.


The parents of any child who is in immediate danger of harming himself or others should consider hospitalization. This is a tough choice for parents to make, but it must be emphasized that children do commit suicide.

Once a child has been diagnosed with either major depression or dysthymia, both psychotherapy and medication could be options. More and more, doctors are realizing that chemical imbalances often account for mental illness, but at the same time, the importance of psychotherapy cannot be discounted. If a child's depression has been caused wholly or in part by psychological factors, medication may relieve the depression, but the underlying cause will not be "cured" by medication alone. Therapy can help the child deal with his past in a healthy manner, and also in learning ways to cope with the very difficult process of growing up.

Antidepressant medication for children is a controversial topic. Currently no medications have FDA approval for use with children, although most of the major drug companies have submitted data. There are no long-term studies that show what kind of impact this medication will have on a child's development. There has also been some question as to whether the older tricyclic antidepressants are effective with children. But keep in mind that it is almost a certainty that depression will have negative long-term effects on the child and his family. From my own experience, I am positive that my growing up with depression had negative effects on the development of my personality. For instance, even with my successful treatment with antidepressants, it's very hard for me to shake the crippling shyness I grew up with. The decision of whether to treat a child with medication is wholly individual, depending on the severity of the child's depression and what toll it will take on the child's life without successful treatment. Parents should educate themselves as much as possible in order to make an informed decision.

Parents of a child with depression should start looking for a child psychiatrist by contacting the nearest university medical center, mental health clinic or organization.

Here are a few of resources:

Mental Health Organizations American Psychiatric Association - (202) 682-6069American Psychological Association - (202) 336-5700 National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) - (800) 950-NAMI NAMI Children and Adolescent Network - (703) 524-7600

Lonely, Sad and Angry: A Parent's Guide to Depression in Children and Adolescents

Help Me, I'm Sad: Recognizing, Treating and Preventing Childhood and Adolescent Depression

#btitle#In Praise of Black Sheep Giving our Children What They Need

Actually, my full legal name is Deborah Eve Frisch Martinides-Gray Deren Gray (long story). I live in the Northeast of the United States with my other half, George, two cats and a chinchilla (affectionately known as Psycho). VIsit my sites at and

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