Authored by Revere Health

What You Need to Know About Childhood Depression

December 22, 2017 | Behavioral HealthFamily Medicine

Depression rates in children are on the rise, and it is common for children to be diagnosed with both depression and an anxiety disorder at the same time. In fact, about half of the people who are diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

If you are a parent or caregiver of a child diagnosed with childhood anxiety and/or depression, your role is important. Here’s a quick overview of what to be aware of.

Types of Depression and Common Symptoms

There are two types of depression:

  • •Major depression: Major depression is characterized by symptoms lasting at least two weeks, and can occur more than once in a child’s life. This form of depression is commonly experienced after a traumatic event like a death.
  • •Dysthymia: A less severe but chronic form of depression that lasts for two years or longer.

Signs and symptoms of depression in children may include:

  • •Depressed or irritable mood
  • •Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • •Changes in grades, trouble at school or refusing to go to school
  • •Changes to eating habits (eating more or losing their appetite)
  • •Anger or irritability
  • •Mood swings
  • •Restlessness or feelings of worthlessness
  • •Regular sadness or crying
  • •Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • •Energy loss
  • •Low self-esteem
  • •Thoughts of death or suicide

Sometimes a child can experience these symptoms for a shorter period of time, and this may be a simple case of “the blues”, but if these symptoms last longer than two weeks or starts to interfere with their day-to-day, your child may have a depressive disorder.

Is My Child at Risk for Depression?

There are certain children who are at a greater risk of depression:

  • •Children with parents who have depression
  • •Girls are more likely to develop depression during adolescence
  • •Children in dysfunctional social relationships or environments
  • •Children with a highly emotional temperament (they may be easily brought to tears and easily soothed)
  • •Children who are frequently self-critical
  • •Children with co-existing medical illnesses
  • •Children who are obese
  • •Children who have experienced trauma such as abuse, natural disaster, or the death of a loved one or pet
  • •Children who are bullied or get poor performance in school

Depression is also a risk factor for suicide. About 80 percent of kids who have an anxiety disorder, and 60 percent who have depression, are not being treated. If you notice symptoms of depression in your child, it’s important to seek help.

Some factors decrease a child’s likelihood of developing depression, including:

  • •A sense of humor
  • •A positive and uplifting network of friends
  • •A close relationship with one or more family member
  • •High normal intelligence
  • •Socially valued achievements


Many children require professional guidance to manage and overcome anxiety and depression. No singular treatment works best for every child, and some may respond better to certain types of treatment than others. Here are the primary treatment options available:

  • •Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapy used to treat mild forms of depression. It involves teaching the child skills and techniques to help them change their behaviors on their own. They’ll learn to replace negative thinking patterns with positive ones, and how to separate unrealistic thoughts from realistic ones. The techniques found here can last years, even though sessions are shorter and tend to last about 12 weeks. It is typical to use this in conjunction with medication to treat moderate or severe depression.
  • •Other therapy: Other forms of therapy, including ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy, using strategies centered around acceptance and mindfulness to cope with negative thoughts) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy, emphasizing taking responsibility for problems and how children deal with conflict and negative emotions) have success for some children.

•Medication: Often used in conjunction with therapy, medications can be helpful for treating depression. A study revealed that a combination of CBT and antidepressants worked better than either treatment on its own. A recent study indicates that many antidepressants are ineffective, and some may be unsafe for children and teenagers with major depression. Other medications like tricyclic antidepressants and benzodiazepines are used less often to treat children. All medications, including SSRIs, may come with side effects that your family doctor will discuss with you.

Caregiver and Parent Tips

There are several things you can do to help your child manage his or her depression at home:

  • •Pay attention to their feelings
  • •When they become anxious, stay calm
  • •Recognize their small accomplishments, and praise them
  • •Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress
  • •Be flexible while also looking to maintain a solid normal routine
  • •Modify expectations for your children during stressful times
  • •Plan for transitions, such as getting to school in the morning

Remember that having a child with anxiety or depression does not mean you’re a bad parent, though they may add stress to your family life. A support network of family and friends can be very helpful for many parents in these situations.

If you think your child is dealing with a depressive or anxiety disorder, speak to your doctor about your options.


“Anxiety and Depression in Children.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“Behavioral Treatment for Kids With Anxiety.” Child Mind Institute.

“Depression in Children and Young People: Identification and Management in Primary, Community and Secondary Care.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.