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Special Education Articles: Emotionally Disturbed Articles: Is Your Child Depressed?

Depressive Disorders in Children & Adolescents
Is Your Child Depressed?

Author - Leslie Earll, Ph.D., Child Psychiatrist - 1997

Characteristics of depression in children are much like those suffered by adults: moodiness; loss of interest or pleasure in activities; sleeping and/or eating disturbances (too little, or too much); fatigue and loss of energy; and commonly, an inappropriate sense of guilt.

The particular characteristics will vary according to the developmental level of your child. For example, infants who are depressed appear listless, withdrawn, and apathetic, and seem unresponsive. Your infant may sleep fitfully, cry excessively and exhibit weight loss, resulting from a decreased appetite.

School-aged children may appear sad, be uninterested in normal activities, cry frequently and express a sense of rejection. They may also have temper tantrums and aggressive behavior, atypical of their normal persona. Bodily symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches or unexplained pains, are common.

Adolescents may have severe and extensive mood swings, beyond the normal puberty hormonal changes. Parents may observe falling grades and new and undesirable friends. This may signal substance abuse, a result of depression. In addition, your teen may feel unloved or unworthy, exhibit unusually low self-esteem, and isolate from friends and family.

As a parent, you must be attentive. Observe your child, his interaction with others, his response to normal activities and situations. Try to draw him out. Talk with him about school, his friends, his performance in school, and how he feels about himself. Has there been a significant change in your child's world, or a stressful event? Divorce, loss of a pet or loved one, moving, or a new sibling are stressful situations, and may induce a depression. Other possible triggers include the traumatic, such as physical or sexual abuse. Has your child's interpretation of a situation caused stress? A negative statement by a peer or a beloved teacher may be taken to heart by a sensitive child, triggering a depression. Each child's perception is unique. Different triggers affect each child differently. Know your child.

Discuss your concerns about your child with other adults and professionals. School teachers, child care providers, counselors, coaches, church and activity leaders outside of school may notice such behavioral changes as decreased involvement, lower self-esteem, lack of enthusiasm, or a tendency to isolate or detach from normal group activities.

If the depressive feelings seem to persist, short-term professional counseling may be a consideration. Let your child know that he need not feel continually sad, and that talking about his feelings is a good, healthy outlet.

In most instances, short-term therapy will alleviate a depression. Also in most cases, the depression does not recur. However, evaluation with a psychiatrist may be necessary for a more serious, persistent depression. Treatment with medication may be required.


Leslie A Earll MD completed medical school and psychiatric residency in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington D.C. Dr. Earll's experience includes work with a broad range of psychiatric disorders involving therapeutic interventions as well as treatment with psychiatric medications when appropriate. Areas of special expertise include treatment of attention deficit disorder, childhood depression and anxiety disorders.

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