How to Recognize Childhood Depression


How can you tell the difference between your child just having a rough day or week versus a more serious mood issue? We all have the occasional bad day, but when a child’s mood or behavior changes so significantly that it begins to interfere with their overall quality of life, depression may be present.

In addition to persistent feelings of sadness, key indicators of childhood depression are as follows:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeps more or less than usual)
  • Changes in weight (gain or loss)
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Guilty or worthless feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Heightened fear of being rejected
  • Crying and other vocal outbursts
  • Physical symptoms (i.e. stomach aches or headaches that are not responsive to other modes of treatment)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

For example, if your child has previously loved school and valued completing homework and now has become resistant towards going to school and failing to complete assigned tasks, this would be a red flag that something deeper is going on with your child.  Your child does not need to meet every criteria listed above in order to meet depression diagnostic standards.  If depressive symptoms are present for at least 2 weeks, it is important to contact your medical and/or mental health care provider. Factors that may contribute to depression include family history of depression, interpersonal conflicts, or life event changes. The good news is that depression responds to mental health treatment. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy alters the ways in which a child views the world. Children and their therapists can address underlying messages and assumptions that the child has about him/herself and the world in order to re-create a more positive and realistic framework from which to function within. Depression is more than just feeling sad; it is a low-mood state that affects all aspects of daily life and functioning.