Child Depression: How Can I Know If My Child Is Depressed?

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

When we are struggling with depression, the changes can often be noticeable. We may actively document our changes in mood, energy levels, and interaction and seek out help for these mental health issues. When others are struggling, however, it may not be so easy to see these issues on the outside.  Depression in children involves signs and symptoms that are very different from those in adults.

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However, one of the most effective ways to help others is to arm ourselves with the right information. Once we know exactly what depression in children looks like, we can better provide our children with the help they need to overcome depression and lead happier lives. With that in mind, let’s dive into what child depression looks like, how you can identify it, and what you should do to help your child get the treatment they need.

What Does Child Depression Look Like?

Adult depression symptoms are relatively straightforward, and an adult may know that they are feeling depressed or can tell when another depressive episode is beginning. Children have not yet learned how to communicate their feelings and lack the language skills to describe what they feel or are experiencing. They may not show the same kind of symptoms due to an inherent lack of self-awareness. That said, if you look closely enough for symptoms, pay attention to their mood, and consistently keep track of their behaviors, you may be able to tell if your child is depressed. But what should you be looking out for?

Symptoms Of Depression In Young Children

Depression in children who are younger and have not yet developed the ability to understand and translate complicated feelings often have some of the most varied symptoms. Some of the most common depression symptoms in young children include:

  • Changes in appetite, either acting hungrier or saying that they are not hungry
  • Changes in attitude, being more negative towards things, acting agitated and angry, or feeling sad constantly
  • No desire to engage in activities that they usually like doing and withdrawing from friends and family members
  • Less energy, which may manifest in slower movement and speech
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping less and having trouble sleeping or sleeping in more
  • Having difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Complaining about tummy aches and headaches (physical manifestations are common in all age groups that are experiencing depression)

Although it may be ignored or rationalized as a potential symptom, some young children do have suicidal thoughts. If your child is having these thoughts or you believe that they may attempt to take action, seek out the emergency help that they need. It can also be a good idea to keep a close eye on what is going on in their daily lives and to clear your home of any potential hazards so that they are safe while they are recovering as well.

Depression in children may be hard to identify, however, it is not impossible.  It requires attention to changes in behavior, and paying attention to your child’s behavioral changes can alert you to a pressing underlying issue.  Sometimes that issue will require that you seek professional help for your child.

For parents of teenagers, the good news is that there are sure warning signs as well.

Symptoms Of Depression In Adolescents

Teen depression does come with similar symptoms that can tip you off to a potential issue. Here are some of the common symptoms of depression in adolescents that may differ from child depression.

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  • Feelings of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, and other feelings that commonly accompany depression. Some teens may also have feelings of numbness or emptiness instead, which is something to watch out for as depression does not always look the same for everyone.
  • Anger, irritability, snapping at people around them.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family and pulling away from activities or things that they previously enjoyed.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping too much or too little.
  • Changes in eating patterns, either overeating or eating too little (if eating is an issue, you may also want to reach out to a mental health professional to see if they could have an eating disorder).
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating, which may result in lower grades at school. Your teen may also act out more at school if they are dealing with depression.
  • Feeling tired and fatigued, whether physically or mentally.
  • Dealing with aches and pains around the body that have no clear explanation and are not treated by normal remedies.
  • Feeling restless and having trouble staying still (this could also be a potential indication of another mental health disorder such as ADHD or bipolar disorder).
  • Engaging in risky behavior or self-harming.
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide and expressing an interest in death (again, if you believe your teen may be at risk of suicide, please reach out for help immediately to help your teen deal with their depression and suicidal ideation).

Some of the above can be associated with changes throughout puberty, but the majority of these, when noticed together, may point to a deeper issue. If you start seeing these behaviors within your own child, let them know that it is okay to open up to you or to another adult they trust about their feelings so that they can get help and treat their symptoms. You and your child are not alone in your struggles!

Causes Of Child Depression: Children And Adolescents

Not all depressive episodes have a specific reason for their development. Sometimes, depression may develop on its own. However, depression can also take place as a result of an external situation that is causing mental stress for a child. Some of these causes may include:

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  • Being bullied at school or online
  • Being placed under intense stress, whether at school or at home
  • Going through a life-changing situation (losing someone, parents getting divorced, or dealing with another trauma)
  • Coping with a health issue that is causing them significant pain and difficulty in their lives

Looking out for these causes can help you better understand why your child may have become depressed in the first place. And it can help you change some of these aspects, so they are less at risk of developing it in the future. For depression in children that may be linked to parental mental health issues or other causes that cannot be stopped or controlled, treatment is still necessary and possible! What is the next step?

How Can I Help My Child If They Have Depression?

If you believe that your child does have depression, taking the next step towards treatment will equip both you and your child with the knowledge and skills needed to improve your child’s life and help them work through their symptoms. Here are some tips on how you can get started.

Seeking Out Help

The first step that you should take is to take your child to your primary care physician or reach out to a mental health professional who can better understand your child’s symptoms (whether those are associated with depression in children or are part of a different mental health disorder that may be affecting your child) and provide a diagnosis that you can then go off to help your child receive treatment. This treatment may consist of talk therapy or a mix of talk therapy and medication, depending upon the severity of their symptoms.

Making Lifestyle Changes

While lifestyle changes will not treat child and adolescent depression, it will help them to better manage their symptoms and make their depression less impactful. The great thing about being a parent in this situation is that you can help your child cultivate better lifestyle habits and coping mechanisms that will help them down the road. Some of these lifestyle tips include:

  • Helping your child be more active and exercise regularly
  • Helping them maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Going out and doing more things with them (and encouraging them to go out and do something with others)
  • Engaging in their favorite activities with them
  • Making stressful tasks or activities less stressful for them
  • Teaching them relaxation and mindfulness exercises
  • Adjusting their diets to include more nutritious and healthy foods

Once these changes become habits, it will often become easier for your child to deal with a depressive episode as they already are equipped with all of the tools to help them cope with their symptoms.

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Working Together With A Therapist

One of the most critical aspects of this process is making sure that you are continually growing with your child, getting out all of the feelings you may have, and learning you and your child can better handle depression. Going to therapy will allow you to tackle all three of these areas, and, for the most part, many can do this by seeking out counselors in their area.

However, not everyone may have access to the therapeutic services that they need to battle depression in children. If this is the case for you, an effective alternative is online counseling platforms. For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling resource that allows you to connect with certified therapists from the comfort of your home. For parents who have a child and adolescent with depression, this can often make it easier to create a schedule that works best for both you and your child and provide you with quick access to high-quality mental health professionals. If your child is between the ages of 13-18 years old, you may want to consider Teen Counseling, a platform that BetterHelp has dedicated to children of this age group.

Child depression is very concerning, but knowing precisely what it is and what it looks like can make it far easier to treat it if it makes an appearance in your household. Additionally, in most cases, depression can be very easily managed so that your child can experience a better quality of life. If you believe your child may have depression, use the information above to learn more about child depression and what you should do if your child is going through a depressive episode.


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