Children & Depression

Depressed mood is a common and universal part of the human experience that can occur at any age and has various causes. Overtime, many children report or give the appearance of feeling unhappy, sad, dejected, irritable, “down” or “blue” but most of them quickly and spontaneously recover from these brief and normal moods or emotional states. However, for others, the depression can be severe and long lasting, and interfere with all aspects of daily life from school achievement to social relationships, (Janzen, & Saklofske).

There are many causes/contributors to childhood depression. They include:

  • heredity
  • biochemical factors
  • hormonal factors
  • seasonal changes
  • psychological stressors (e.g. loss of a loved one, moving, violent environment, divorce, threats to self-esteem, and child perceptions)

Although many symptoms of depression are the same for adults and children, there are some differences having to do with a child’s stage of development. The following are some characteristics of the various signs of depression in relation to a child’s developmental stage. For example, toddlers may exhibit signs of sadness, inactivity, and/or stomachaches. School-age children may also exhibit unhappiness, poor school performance, irritability and/or refusal to take part in activities they use to enjoy. Adolescents may exhibit sadness, withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, changes in sleeping/eating habits and frequent suicidal thoughts. It is important to note that all children will not exhibit every sign. In addition, the above signs are not the only signs children will exhibit.

If you suspect your child is depressed talk to the school psychologist in your child’s school. It is also very important to alert your family doctor. He may wish to provide additional referrals. Ask to be referred to a mental health professional experienced in treating children with depression.

Children and Depression (Handout), H.L. Janzen,
University of Alberta, D.H. Saklofske, University of Saskatchewan