Childhood and Teen Depression: know the signs

It’s June, a time of hellos and goodbyes.


Change in routine can be tough.  For some children and teens the transition from school year to summer unmasks depression.


The signs of depression in younger children can look different than depression in teens and young adults.  Younger children are less likely to tell you that they feel sad- often because they can not pinpoint what is wrong.    Of course everyone is allowed periodic “bad days”, but when there are more “bad days” than “good days” action must be taken.  Below are some warning signs that your child may be depressed:


Feels down or sad much of the time

Acts angry much of the time

Acts “out of control” or has new behavior problems that seem resistant to your usual discipline measures.

Loses interest in activities which normally bring pleasure, withdraws from friends

Exhibits changes in sleep patterns-difficulty falling asleep, numerous awakenings, or excess sleeping

Has feelings of worthlessness (feelings she let a family member or teacher down, etc.)

Finds it difficult to concentrate

Performs worse in school, grades slip, or tries to avoid going to school

Shows low energy or fatigue or conversely seems restless or “hyper”

Alcohol or drug use (attempts at “self-medicating”)

Expresses thoughts of being better off dead or desires to hurt himself.


If you suspect your child is depressed, ask him the hard questions. Ask him if he is thinking of hurting himself or others.  Ask if he wants to commit suicide. You will not be “planting an idea.” Asking will allow you to find the medical help he needs immediately.  Not asking may lead to death. We always tell patients and their parents not to hesitate to call “911” or go to the emergency room if the patient is suicidal.  After all, it is an emergency– a life is at stake.


Sometimes it’s not your child who is depressed.Your child’s friend may confide that he or she is extremely sad and may tell your child to keep the information a secret.  Let your child know that her friend is giving a “cry for help” and that it is appropriate to share information with adults.


Children and teens can have “real” depression just like adults and they need treatment from an experienced health care professional just like adults do. Consequences of untreated depression, just like adults, can include loss of enjoyment in life, estrangement from friends, school or job failure, and untimely death from suicide.


Naline Lai, MD and Julie Kardos, MD

© 2010 Two Peds in a Pod℠

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