- Depression in children: 5-8 years
- Signs and symptoms of depression in children
- What to do if you’re worried about depression in children
- Managing depression in children: professional support
- Managing depression in children: support at home
- Looking after yourself when your child has depression
- Childhood Depression: What Parents Need to Know
- What Causes Child Depression?
- What Is the Therapy for Child Depression?
- What Should I Do if I Think My Child Is Depressed?
- Childhood Depression: What to Do When Your Child is Depressed
- Understand the symptoms
- What to expect from treatment
- What to expect at home
- What to expect at school
- What to expect from your child
- Anxiety and Depression in Children | CDC
- Treatment for anxiety and depression
- Get help finding treatment
- Managing Symptoms: Staying Healthy
- Prevention of anxiety and depression
Depression in children: 5-8 years
It’s normal for children to feel down, be cranky or think negatively – this is part of healthy development and learning to manage emotions. But childhood depression is more than just feeling sad, blue or low.
Depression in children is a mental health problem that affects children’s thinking, mood and behaviour. Children experiencing depression often feel negative about themselves, their situation and their future.
If your child is depressed, it can be hard for your child to learn, make friends and make the most of daily life. If depression goes on for a long time without treatment, children can fall behind at school, lose confidence in themselves and become more withdrawn.
Children who have the right care can recover from depression. Your GP can connect you with the professionals who can help. And your love and support also plays a big part in helping your child recover.
If your child says anything about suicide or self-harm – ‘I wish I was dead’ or ‘I don’t want to wake up anymore’ – you should take this seriously. Seek professional help straight away from your GP or ring Lifeline on 131 114. If you’re really worried about your child or yourself, call 000 and ask for help, or go to the closest emergency department.
Signs and symptoms of depression in children
If you notice any of the following signs in your child, and these signs last longer than about two weeks, your child might have depression.
Changes in your child’s emotions or behaviour
You might notice that your child:
- seems sad or unhappy most of the time
- is aggressive, won’t do what you ask most of the time, or has a lot of temper tantrums
- says negative things about themselves – for example, ‘I’m not good at anything’ or ‘No-one at school s me’
- feels guilty – for example, your child might say ‘It’s always my fault’
- is afraid or worried a lot
- keeps saying their tummy or head hurts, and these problems don’t seem to have a physical or medical cause.
Changes in your child’sinterest in everyday activities
You might notice that your child:
- doesn’t have as much energy as they usually do
- doesn’t want to be around friends and family
- isn’t interested in playing or doing things they used to enjoy
- has problems sleeping, including nightmares
- has problems concentrating, remembering things or making simple decisions.
Changes in your child’s behaviour or academic performance at school
If your child is at school, you might also notice that your child:
- isn’t going so well academically
- isn’t taking part in school activities
- has problems fitting in at school or getting along with other children.
What to do if you’re worried about depression in children
Depression doesn’t go away on its own. You need to help your child if you think they have depression.
Here’s what to do:
- See your GP, and get a referral to a paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist who can diagnose depression in children.
- If you can’t get help quickly, feel concerned about your child’s safety or don’t know what to do, find your local area mental health service by calling your nearest hospital or by calling Lifeline on 131 114.
- If your child is having trouble talking to you about how they’re feeling, you could ask if they want to talk to another trusted adult. But always let your child know that you’re there for them and want to understand what’s happening.
- If your child is five years old or older, they can talk with a Kids Helpline counsellor by calling 1800 551 800 or using the Kids Helpline email counselling service or the Kids Helpline web counselling service.
By finding early help for your child with depression, you can:
- help your child get better faster
- reduce the risk that your child will have depression later in life
- help your child grow up healthy and well.
Your GP will probably talk with you about a mental health treatment plan for your child. If you have a plan, your child can get Medicare rebates for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional. You can also get Medicare rebates for visits to a paediatrician or psychiatrist.
Managing depression in children: professional support
Your child’s psychologist or psychiatrist might use cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help your child change unhelpful or unhealthy thinking habits and behaviour.
Your child’s therapist might use other approaches relaxation, mindfulness, play therapy, parent therapy or family therapy to help your child learn to think more positively and deal with challenges. This means your child will be less ly to have depression again.
Think of yourself and your child’s health professionals as a team. Talk with the professionals about how you can support your child’s therapy at home.
Managing depression in children: support at home
As well as working with mental health professionals, here are some simple and effective ways that you can help your child:
- Make time to talk with your child and listen to their feelings. You could do this when you’re making dinner together or going for a walk.
- Gently encourage your child to do something they would normally enjoy when they’re feeling depressed instead of dwelling on their feelings. For example, a trip to the park or spending time with friends.
- Manage your child’s stress and tension. Regular family routines that make time for exercise, relaxing and socialising with friends can help. Getting enough sleep can also reduce your child’s stress levels.
- Look for apps that can help your child learn relaxation strategies, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualisations and mindfulness.
- Speak with your child’s teacher or school counsellor to find the best ways to support your child at school.
When siblings and other family members know that your child has depression, they can help by being accepting and compassionate. But before you tell other people, ask your child whether this is OK. It’s important for your child to give permission for you to tell others.
Looking after yourself when your child has depression
It’s not your fault if your child develops depression.
It can be really hard for you to see your child feeling upset, sad or withdrawn for a long time. In families, the way one person is feeling and behaving can affect other family members.
Although it’s easy to focus on looking after your child, it’s important to look after your own health and wellbeing too. Consider seeking professional help for yourself if stresses and worries are affecting your everyday life. Your GP is a good person to talk with.
If you’re physically and mentally well, you’ll be better able to care for your child.
Talking to other parents can also be a great way to get support. You can connect with other parents in similar situations by joining a face-to-face or an online parent support group.
Childhood Depression: What Parents Need to Know
It's normal for kids to feel sad, act grouchy, or be in a bad mood at times. But when a sad or bad mood lasts for weeks or longer, and when there are other changes in a child's behavior, it might be depression.
Therapy can help children who are going through sadness or depression. And there are things parents can do, too. Getting the right care can prevent things from getting worse and help a child feel better.
If sadness has lasted for weeks or longer, talk about it with your child's doctor.
If a child is depressed, parents may notice some of these signs:
- Sad or bad mood. A child may seem sad, lonely, unhappy, or grouchy. It can last weeks or months. A child may cry more easily. They may have more tantrums than before.
- Being self-critical. Kids going through depression may complain a lot. They may say self-critical things , «I can't do anything right.» «I don't have any friends.» «I can't do this.» «It's too hard for me.»
- Lack of energy and effort. Depression can drain a child's energy. They might put less effort into school than before. Even doing little tasks can feel too much effort. Kids may seem tired, give up easily, or not try.
- Not enjoying things. Kids don't have as much fun with friends or enjoy playing before. They may not feel doing things they used to enjoy.
- Sleep and eating changes. Kids may not sleep well or seem tired even if they get enough sleep. Some may not feel eating. Others may overeat.
- Aches and pains. Some children may have stomach aches or other pains. Some miss school days because of not feeling well, even though they aren't sick.
What Causes Child Depression?
Different things can lead to depression. There is no single cause. Some children have genes that make them more sensitive to depression. They may have other family members who have been depressed.
Some children go through stressful things. Some have faced loss, trauma, or hardships. Some go through serious health conditions. These things can lead to sadness or grief — and sometimes to depression.
Having extra support during and after hard times helps protect children from depression or lessen the effects. But even when they have good support, some children get depressed. Therapy can help them heal, feel better, and get back to enjoying things.
What Is the Therapy for Child Depression?
The therapy for child depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Therapists help kids feel welcome and supported. They have kids talk about what they think and feel. They may use stories, play, lessons, or workbooks. These tools can help children feel at ease and get the most from CBT. When possible, a child's therapy includes their parent.
If a child has gone through a loss, trauma, or other difficult events, the therapy will include things that help a child heal from that, too. And if a parent is dealing with their own loss or depression, the child's therapist can help them get the care and support they need.
What Should I Do if I Think My Child Is Depressed?
If you think your child is depressed:
Talk with your child about sadness and depression. Kids might not know why they are so sad and why things seem so hard. Let them know you see that they're going through a hard time and that you're there to help. Listen, comfort, offer your support, and show love.
Set up a visit with your child's doctor. Let your child's doctor know if sad or bad moods seem to go on for a few weeks.
By itself, this doesn't always mean a child is depressed. Tell your child's doctor if you have also noticed changes in your child's sleep, eating, energy, or effort.
Tell them if your child is dealing with a loss, a big stress, or hardship.
The doctor will do a physical exam. A full exam lets the doctor check for health issues that could cause your child's symptoms. They can also check for depression. Your child's doctor may refer you to a child therapist. The doctor's office might have a child therapist on staff.
Set up a visit with a child therapist. A child therapist (mental health doctor) will spend time talking with you and your child. They will do an in-depth check for depression by asking questions and listening. The therapist can explain how therapy can help your child.
Take your child to therapy visits. The therapist may suggest a few visits, or more. Therapy can take time, but you will see progress along the way.
Be patient and kind. When your child acts moody or difficult, try to stay patient. Talk with your child's therapist about the best ways to respond when your child acts this way.
Often, it helps to connect with your child in a calm way, then guide them to better behavior. Instead of feeling bad, this lets kids feel proud of doing better.
It lets them see that you're proud of them, too.
Enjoy time together. Spend time with your child doing things you both can enjoy. Go for a walk, play a game, cook, read stories, make a craft, watch a funny movie. Spend time outdoors if you can. These things gently encourage positive moods. They help you and your child feel close.
Childhood Depression: What to Do When Your Child is Depressed
Depression is a serious medical condition that can negatively affect a child’s ability to connect with friends and family, enjoy normal daily activities, attend school and concentrate while there, and enjoy childhood.
Proper diagnosis and a treatment plan is a good start, but working through depression requires time and can include relapses. It helps to know what to expect during the process and when to seek additional help.
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Understand the symptoms
For adults, the defining feature of a major depressive episode includes depressed mood nearly every day for a two-week period, but for kids, you are more ly to see irritability.1
Watch for these other symptoms:
- Irritable, sad, withdrawn, or bored most of the time
- Does not take pleasure in usual activities
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What to expect from treatment
Treatment for a depression can take time and sometimes involves some trial and error. No two kids are the same, and it’s important to remain patient with the process to help your child feel safe.
- Education: Educating your child about depression is a crucial first step. This helps your child understand the possible causes (genetics, environmental factors, bullying, stress), understand brain chemistry (low serotonin), and reduces self-blame. It also normalizes what your child is going through.
- Psychotherapy: Counseling is a good option for kids struggling with depression. There are different kinds of counseling and what works for one might not work for another. For very young children, play therapy is an option. For older kids and teens, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be effective. It can take time to find the best patient/therapist match. Make several calls and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You know your child best.
- Medication: Medication might be necessary for moderate to severe cases, but medication works best when combined with counseling. Medication management is important. Close supervision of the prescribing physician is recommended.
- Hospitalization: For severe cases of depression, including suicidal ideation, hospitalization is sometimes necessary.
What to expect at home
Even with medication, there is no quick fix for depression. Treatment can be long and arduous. Parents can help support children by doing the following:
- Encouraging daily exercise (this does not have to include an organized sport. Family walks count.)
- Supervising any medication (it’s too much to ask a depressed child to manage his own medication)
- Make time to talk. Counseling will help your child begin to open up and verbalize feelings; it’s your job to listen and provide unconditional support when your child opens up at home.
- Cook healthy meals. Healthy lifestyle choices can help with the treatment process.
- Encourage healthy sleep habits
What to expect at school
It’s very difficult to perform well in school when thinking and concentration are impaired by depression. It’s important to include the classroom teacher and a school counselor or psychologist on the treatment team to help your child work through this difficult time.
There are classroom accommodations that might benefit your child during this time. Talk to the classroom teacher about the following:
- Extended time for lengthy assignments and tests
- Breaking down assignments into manageable pieces (this is particularly helpful for kids who appear “overwhelmed”)
- Help to create study or homework schedules
- Provide copy of class notes (helpful for impaired concentration)
- Taking tests in a quiet room, free from distractions
It’s also helpful to have a plan in place should your child need a break during the day. Examples might include a daily check-in with a school counselor or psychologist in the early stage of treatment and a weekly appointment as your child stabilizes.
What to expect from your child
Children and adolescents are not mini-adults. They are developing and changing at a rapid pace, even when they experience a depressive episode. As such, symptoms can intensify and lessen throughout treatment. You might find that the depression seems to have lifted, only to notice a relapse in depressive behavior a few days later.
Irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and outbursts are common in depressed children. As hard as this can be for the parent on the receiving end of these behaviors, it is important that parents remain calm and focus on active listening.
It’s the natural tendency for the parent to want to “fix” it or somehow put a stop to it, but mental illness is complicated. It can’t be fixed or stopped. It can, however, improve.
With proper treatment and supports in place, your child can thrive and enjoy childhood once again.
- American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 160-168.
Anxiety and Depression in Children | CDC
Many children have fears and worries, and may feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears may appear at different times during development.
For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. Although fears and worries are typical in children, persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression.
Because the symptoms primarily involve thoughts and feelings, they are sometimes called internalizing disorders.
When a child does not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include
- Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
- Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
- Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
- Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
- Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.
Related conditions include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Learn more about anxiety in childrenexternal icon
Occasionally being sad or feeling hopeless is a part of every child’s life. However, some children feel sad or uninterested in things that they used to enjoy, or feel helpless or hopeless in situations they are able to change. When children feel persistent sadness and hopelessness, they may be diagnosed with depression.
Examples of behaviors often seen in children with depression include
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
- Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things
- Showing changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
- Showing changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
- Showing changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
- Having a hard time paying attention
- Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
- Showing self-injury and self-destructive behavior
Extreme depression can lead a child to think about suicide or plan for suicide. For youth ages 10-24 years, suicide is among the leading causes of death. Read about youth suicide prevention.external icon
Some children may not talk about their helpless and hopeless thoughts, and may not appear sad. Depression might also cause a child to make trouble or act unmotivated, causing others not to notice that the child is depressed or to incorrectly label the child as a trouble-maker or lazy.
Learn more about depression in childrenexternal icon
Treatment for anxiety and depression
The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider such as your child’s primary care provider, or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends that healthcare providers routinely screen children for behavioral and mental health concerns.
pdf icon[217 KB, 13 pages]external icon Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. Specific symptoms having a hard time focusing could be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is important to get a careful evaluation to get the best diagnosis and treatment.
Consultation with a health provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment. A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. The school can also be included in the treatment plan.
For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one form of therapy that is used to treat anxiety or depression, particularly in older children. It helps the child change negative thoughts into more positive, effective ways of thinking, leading to more effective behavior.
Behavior therapy for anxiety may involve helping children cope with and manage anxiety symptoms while gradually exposing them to their fears so as to help them learn that bad things do not occur.
Treatments can also include a variety of ways to help the child feel less stressed and be healthier nutritious food, physical activity, sufficient sleep, predictable routines, and social support.
Get help finding treatment
Here are tools to find a healthcare provider familiar with treatment options:
Managing Symptoms: Staying Healthy
Being healthy is important for all children and can be especially important for children with depression or anxiety. In addition to getting the right treatment, leading a healthy lifestyle can play a role in managing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Here are some healthy behaviors that may help:
Prevention of anxiety and depression
It is not known exactly why some children develop anxiety or depression. Many factors may play a role, including biology and temperament.
But it is also known that some children are more ly to develop anxiety or depression when they experience trauma or stress, when they are maltreated, when they are bullied or rejected by other children, or when their own parents have anxiety or depression.
Although these factors appear to increase the risk for anxiety or depression, there are ways to decrease the chance that children experience them. Learn about public health approaches to prevent these risks: