Depression Signs, Symptoms & Effects In Children

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of depression is an important part of the effort to get treatment for a child or adolescent. At Little Creek Behavioral Health in Conway, Arkansas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for young people ages 12-18 who have been struggling with depression and other mental health conditions.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

Most people think that depression is a diagnosis that causes someone to feel sad all the timeWhile sadness is a symptom of depression, it is a common misconception that it is the only symptom people living with this mental health condition experience. There are a range of emotions and other symptoms associated with depression, meaning that two people living with this condition often present differently. 

Children and adolescents struggling with depression may experience similar feelings as adults who are living with depression. Individuals suffering from this condition may feel hopeless, helpless, worthless, and empty, yet children and adolescents are often unable to articulate this to their family or those around themSince it is often difficult for children suffering from depression to verbalize such emotionsthey may act irritable and hostile. 

Young people suffering from depression may also isolate themselves and withdraw from most activities, even those that were once enjoyable to them. A child or adolescent facing depression will often experience symptoms for most of the day, every day.  

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior and want to learn more about depression, consult a mental health professional. This will help you determine the degree to which depression is impacting your child’s development and well-being. If your child receives an early diagnosis of depression, they will be able to access comprehensive care to improve their ability to function. 


Statistics about depression

In 2017, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported the following statistics about depression in the United States:  

  • Around 3.2 million adolescents age12-17 had at least one depressive episode. 
  • Depression was more common in adolescent females than in adolescent males. 
  • 70.77% of adolescents struggling with depression were severely impaired. 
  • Approximately 60% of adolescents living with depression did not receive treatment. 

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

The causes of depression in children and adolescents are similar to those in adults. The factors that increase a child’s risk for developing depression include: 

  • A family history of depression 
  • Exposure to trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or violence 
  • Abnormal brain changes during development 
  • Medical conditions, physical ailments, or the use of certain medications 
  • A major life change or significant stress 

If any of these factors apply to your child, they may have an increased risk for developing this mental health concern. Howeverthese factors do not guarantee that your child will be diagnosed with depression. It is important to educate yourself on the symptoms of this condition and consult a mental health professional if you have specific concerns about your child. 

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of depression

A child or adolescent who is experiencing depression may present with mood changes, such as hostility and tantrums. These symptoms are different from the emotions that an adult living with depression may experience, and this often makes it more difficult to determine the true source of your child’s irritabilitySome common symptoms of depression in children and adolescents include: 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Persistent feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, helplessness, or guilt 
  • Trouble focusing or making decisions 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 
  • Heightened emotional sensitivity 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Notable changes in appetite and sleep 
  • Restlessness 
  • Continual fatigue and low energy 
  • Frequent aches and pains with no known cause or resolution 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Not participating in previously enjoyed activities 
  • Behavioral outbursts or temper tantrums 
  • Suicide attempts 
  • Hostile, aggressive, or irritable interactions with others 


Effects of depression

Depending on the severity of the diagnosisdepression has the potential to impact a child’s development and functioning at home, school, and in the communityDue to the impact that untreated depression has, it is important that you receive appropriate education to help your child manage this condition and obtain the appropriate care. If your child is diagnosed with depression and receives services early enoughthey may be able to learn tools to manage the symptoms and experience an improved quality of life as they mature. The following are just some of the areas where depression may impact your child’s life: 

  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships 
  • Neglect for self-care 
  • New or worsening medical problems 
  • Injury and distress from suicide attempts or self-harm 
  • Poor academic performance 
  • Withdrawal from social situations 
  • Substance use 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who have depression

Children and adolescents who are experiencing depression may also be living with the following conditions: 

  • Substance use disorder 
  • Panic disorder 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 
  • Anorexia nervosa 
  • Bulimia nervosa 
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) 

These and other medical conditions may result from severe and unmanaged depression. Consult a mental health professional if you would like to learn more about depression or have direct concerns about your child’s behavior and mood. 

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval