Behavioral health conditions

Depression in children and teens PRINT BACK

Causes of depression 

Doctors do not fully understand the causes of depression. It is believed that some people inherit a tendency to have an imbalance in the brain chemicals that control mood. Major losses or disappointments can bring on this imbalance, leading to clinical depression.

Doctors do know that depression is not a sign of personal weakness or something that can be willed or wished away. Children and teens with clinical depression cannot simply “snap out of it.” It’s important to remember that depression is no one’s “fault.”

Risk factors

Depression is not uncommon in adolescents. The 2015National SurveyonDrugUse andHealthestimated thatin2015,3million adolescents age12 to17(representing12.5 percent of thisage group)experienced atleastone major depressive episode (MDE) inthe pastyear. Between 2005 and2015, the percentage of adolescentsage 12 to 17 with a major depressive episode increased.1

Once a young person has an episode of major depression, he or she is at greater risk of having another episode. Other factors that may increase the risk for depression in children and teens are:

  • A parent or other family member with depression
  • Family history of drug and alcohol addiction
  • Academic or behavior problems at school
  • Social problems at school including bullying
  • Loss or separation from a parent or caregiver
  • Having a hard time with friends
  • Family conflict and/or lack of positive feelings or emotions expressed in the family
  • Having a negative outlook.

Signs and symptoms  

Signs and symptoms of child and teen depression vary and may be different from those seen in adults. In children and teens, early symptoms can be hard to notice, or may be due to other causes. Signs and symptoms of depression in children and teens that cannot be otherwise explained include:

  • Missed school or poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities once enjoyed
  • Persistent sadness, hopelessness or irritability
  • Indecision, lack of focus, constant worrying, restless mood or forgetfulness
  • Guilt or low self-esteem
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches, without apparent physical cause
  • Lack of enthusiasm, low energy or motivation
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Attempts at self-injury
  • Play that involves persistently sad themes
  • Giving away previously cherished belongings.

Young people who are depressed have a greater risk of suicide than other young people. This is another important reason for seeking professional help if depression is suspected.

Treatment 

The most common treatments for depression are: 

  • Psychotherapy. This involves talking with a mental health professional (therapist) about ways to better cope with changes in your life. Research has shown that it is effective for depression and that most people see progress in a timely manner.
  • Antidepressant medication. Medicine can help correct an imbalance in the brain chemicals that control a person’s mood. Most medicine can be used safely but should be prescribed by a doctor who knows about the drug and how it might affect other medicine you may be taking. Be sure to tell all of your doctors about all of your medical conditions and all of the medication that you’re taking. Most people will see signs of relief within four to six weeks.
  • A combination of the two treatments. This approach combines “talk therapy” with antidepressant medication and can be more effective for some people than either medicine or psychotherapy alone.

Parents and adults can help

If you think that a child or teen is depressed, you should:

  • Have the child seen by a doctor or therapist who specializes in child or adolescent mental health, or the child’s doctor, for an evaluation.
  • Get as much information as you can about depression.
  • Learn more about available care and resources from a doctor or mental health professional.
  • Talk to other families who can offer advice and support.
  • Find and join support groups, such as those offered by Mental Health America at www.mentalhealthamerica.net or 1-800-969-6642.

Getting help

If you think that a child or teen may be depressed, call your healthcare provider or your program’s toll-free number.

Get help for the child or teen right away if he or she is thinking of hurting him or her self or others.

 

This article is for your information only. It is not meant to give medical advice. It should not be used to replace a visit with a provider. Magellan does not endorse other resources that may be mentioned here.

 

 

1Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-49, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4887. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

 

 

 

 

 

Depression is not uncommon in adolescents. The 2015National SurveyonDrugUse andHealthestimated thatin2015,3million adolescents age12 to17(representing12.5 percent of thisage group)experienced atleastone major depressive episode (MDE) inthe pastyear. Between 2005 and2015, the percentage of adolescentsage 12 to 17 with a major depressive episode increased.1