Depression in Children and Adolescents
It is a normal part of childhood and adolescence to have times when you feel sad or down. However, some children and adolescents experience a persistent sadness and hopelessness, which sometimes includes irritability and anger, and they become uninterested in things they used to do and enjoy. They may feel helpless or hopeless in situations they are able to change and may be insightful enough to say they feel unhappy a lot of the time but they “don’t know why.” Some people think only adults can become depressed, but children and adolescents can become depressed too, and we are seeing this in increasing numbers, especially since COVID-19. At its most extreme form, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or a plan for suicide.
Common signs of depression in children and adolescents:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
- Frequent crying.
- Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things
- Showing changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
- Showing changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
- Showing changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
- Having a hard time paying attention
- Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
- Showing self-injury and self-destructive behavior
- Physical complaints, such as frequent headaches or stomach aches.
- In adolescents, use of alcohol or other drugs as a way of trying to feel better.
- Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork.
Some children and adolescents may not talk about their helpless and hopeless thoughts and may not appear sad. Some may continue to do their schoolwork, even do well in school, yet be significantly depressed. When asked directly, some children will say that are unhappy or sad, while others will say they want to hurt themselves, be dead, or even that they want to kill themselves. Some will say they are fine, and some will say nothing at all. Doing well in school does not mean a child or adolescent is emotionally stable. Depression might also cause a child or adolescent to act out, get into trouble, or act unmotivated, causing others to incorrectly label them as a trouble-maker, or lazy, or disrespectful, not recognizing that they are in fact, depressed.
We don’t always know the cause of depression. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere. Other times, it happens when children are under stress or after losing someone close to them. Bullying and spending a lot of time using social media may be associated with depression. Depression can run in families. Having another condition such as attentional problems, learning issues, conduct or anxiety disorders also puts children at higher risk for depression. Therapy is an effective treatment for depression, but sometimes, if the depression has been present for a long time and/or it is very intense, then a combination of antidepressant medication and therapy is the best, most effective course of treatment.
Depression is a severe mood disorder that affects many people. However, it can develop so gradually that you might not even become aware of it until it consumes your life. Many people experience times in their lives when they are sad or down which is normal. However, some people experience persistent sadness and hopelessness, and become uninterested in things they used to do and enjoy. Some may not understand why they feel so down, and believe they “should not” feel depressed, searching for a reason or cause and coming up with nothing. Yet, they feel depressed.
Common side effects of depression include difficulties functioning, maintaining social relationships and loss of interest in normal daily activities. Depression impacts a person’s ability to participate in day-to-day activities such as eating, sleeping, or going to work. A tricky part of depression is that the person experiencing it tends to isolate from their friends and/or loved ones. If you’re depressed, you may not want to see people that you care about because you’re not feeling well emotionally. It takes too much energy. Everything takes too much energy when you are depressed. That is why it’s important to seek treatment. If left untreated, it can lead to severe consequences, including suicide.
Common Signs of Depression in Adults
- A consistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- A sense of hopelessness
- Persistent guilt or feelings of worthlessness
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions.
- Decreased or increased appetite.
- Decreased energy or fatigue.
- Lack of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
- Moving or speaking slowly
- Self-harming behaviors
- Thoughts of suicide or an active plan to end one’s life
Depression is treatable, and managing symptoms usually involves three components, support, therapy, and drug treatment. Support can range from educating family members and discussing practical solutions including other ways to mobilize support around the person. Therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment and often includes cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Therapy may help people develop new coping skills as well as more adaptive ways of thinking about life problems. Medication is often used in conjunction with therapy, especially when depression has been chronic and/or intense. Well-designed studies have shown that combination treatment is more effective than either treatment on its own.