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The Informed Parent

Childhood Depression

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Mar. 27, 2000
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Dear Dr. Welty:

I am writing to you about my 13-year-old daughter. She has never been the same after my mother died following a long illness ten months ago. My daughter really took the death hard. My husband also lost his job at that time. Our family has gone through a lot in the past year. My husband and I have gotten some counseling, but I am really concerned about my daughter. Her grades at school have dropped from her usual A’s and B’s. She is now failing most of her classes. She also stays in her room most of the time, and is not spending as much time with her friends as she used to. She just sleeps all day long. She has become so angry and irritable with our whole family.

I thought that depression only affected adults, and that children were not supposed to be depressed. What’s the matter with her then?

Thanks for your note. This is a timely topic, since February was Children’s Mental Health month. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a great deal of information about child mental health problems, and much of the information for your topic is from their resources.

Adults and children both can become depressed. Significant depression, lasting for a long time and affecting one’s usual activities at home, school, and the community, is a serious problem and can affect up to 5% of children and teens.

The behavior one sees in depressed children and adolescents can vary from the behavior of depressed adults. Parents should be concerned about their children who show signs of:

  • Persistent sadness
  • An inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities
  • Increased activity or irritability
  • Complaints of physical illnesses such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Frequent absences from school, or poor performance in school
  • Persistent low energy, boredom, or poor concentration
  • A major change in eating habits and/or sleeping patterns.

Children who are depressed may say that they wish they had never been born, or that they could run away, or wish they were dead. Depressed teens may turn to drugs or alcohol. Some children who are depressed may show destructive behavior at home or at school.

Early diagnosis and treatment of children or teens who are depressed is essential. Your child may benefit from a visit to the pediatrician who can rule out any medical problems that may mimic depression. He or she can refer you to a therapist for counseling. In some cases, children can benefit from a course of medication. Discuss this with your doctor. Good luck.




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