Depression in Children

By Lisa Kraft, Director of Special Services

Children growing up today often experience stress and this stress may cause depression. Yes, even young children can become depressed. Depression is the most common mental health problem that children and adolescents experience. It is generally defined as an ongoing sad or irritable mood as well as a loss of ability to experience pleasure in activities. Depression sometimes goes undiagnosed because the symptoms can look similar to the regular ups and downs of growing up. If depression goes untreated it can lead to serious problems for a child’s social, emotional, personal, and academic performance and growth.

Depression in young children, prior to adolescence, is rare and occurs in about 1.5% of children. However, up to 10% of adolescents experience significant depression. This means that in a class of 30 students, 3 students may have depression. Girls are more likely to show depression than boys. These reasons may include different social stressors, coping methods, hormonal differences, or differences in gender expectations. Typical onset for depression is usually between ages eleven and fourteen.     

Depression can take very different courses. It may be short or long term and persist for weeks, months or years. It can also come quickly in trauma situations. Most cases of major depression last between seven and nine months.  Children may have a greater likelihood of developing depression if they have family members with depression, live in a highly stressful environment, or have experienced a traumatic event.

Common characteristics a child or adolescent with depression may include:

  • Negative view of self, others, and the world
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from social settings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depressed and/or irritable mood
  • Attention problems
  • All or none thinking
  • Decreased work or school performance
  • Detached from others
  • Low energy
  • Lack of ability to sleep or eat
  • Health complaints
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or suicidal attempts

The presence of one or all of these symptoms does not mean that an individual is depressed. However, if several of the above symptoms are present it would be wise to seek help from a mental health professional.

Depression can usually be treated effectively. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are critical for children and adolescents with depression. Treatment may include the use of medication, individual therapy, and/or family therapy.  

It is very important to have good communication between home and school when a child may be experiencing depression. Professionals in the schools, such as the School Nurse, Counselors, School Psychologist, and School Social Worker can all help to provide the connection between home, school, and the medical community. If you have concerns that your child may be experiencing depression contact your family physician for initial guidance.  You can also contact your child’s school teacher, administrator, or counselor to discuss how the possible depression may be hurting your child’s social, personal and/or school performance. Let’s all work together to ensure the well-being of the youth in our community!

NASP (2018). Depression: Supporting Students at School

Hutchinson Public Schools

Hutchinson Public Schools