Depression in Children, Adolescents & Teens

Causes of Depression in Children, Adolescents & Teens

The precise cause of Depression and other mood disorders is not known – a fact that can be frustrating for parents. However, Depression has been linked to genetics and environmental factors. The most common factors associated with depression in children, adolescents & teens include:

  • A family history of depression
  • Their parents’ divorce
  • Excessive stress
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Physical or emotional trauma
  • The loss of a parent, caregiver or other loved one
  • The end of a close relationship
  • Chronic illness
  • A failure to accomplish tasks or keep up with peers in activities
  • Other developmental, learning or conduct disorders
  • Other psychiatric disorders

Types of Depression in Children, Adolescents & Teens

Major Depression, also known as Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder

This is the disorder most people are referring to when they use the term “depression”. Major depression in children is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness, a loss of interest or pleasure in favorite activities, feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Low-Grade Depression, also known as Dysthymia or Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent Depressive Disorder, or Dysthymia, in children is characterized by chronic feelings of little energy, malaise, generally depressed mood, low self-esteem, poor motivation, hopelessness and irritability. Symptoms generally cause less impairment than major depressive episodes.

Bipolar Disorder, also known as Manic Depressive Disorder

The term “Bipolar Depression” is often used when referring to Bipolar Disorder, but it only represents one side of this disorder. Children with Bipolar Disorder experience both episodes of mania – extreme highs or euphoria – and episodes of Major Depression; thus, the name Manic Depressive Disorder.

Risks of Depression in Children, Adolescents & Teens

The risks of depression in children can be serious and wide-ranging. This is why a child who is presumed to be suffering from depression should be evaluated as soon as possible. Left untreated, depression in children can lead to:

  • Failure in school
  • Involvement in risky behaviors
  • Difficulties carrying out school and job responsibilities
  • Relationship problems in adulthood
  • Attempted or successful suicide

Risk Factors for Depression in Children, Adolescents & Teens

Biologically, depression in children is thought to be caused by a difference in the structure and function of your child’s brain that controls the intensity of sad or irritable moods. If other members of your family have had Depression, your child is more likely to develop it, too.

Psychologically, children have different temperaments. Two siblings can be raised in the same environment, and one may suffer from depression and the other may be relentlessly upbeat and cheerful.

Environmentally, stress at home, school or in social venues can contribute to depression in children. Your child may experience depression if he or she feels unhappy in his or her environment and, significantly, feels powerless to change it.

Treatment for Depression in Children, Adolescents & Teens

Depression in children can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Although even the most severe cases of depression can be treated, treatment is most effective when it is started earlier.

It is important to recognize that every child is affected by depression in their own way, and treatment must be customized to the individual. In other words, there is no single pre-defined treatment for depression in children that works for everyone.

Psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as “talk therapy” or counseling, is a vital component of treating depression in children. There are a variety of specific psychotherapeutic approaches that can be explored in the treatment of depression in children, including:

Medication, specifically antidepressants, may help improve the way the brain manages chemicals that control mood or stress. Every child will react to various medications in their own way, and several different medications may be tried before finding one that improves symptoms with manageable side effects.