Could My Child or Teen Be Depressed?

miserableboybySimonHowdenIt seems to me that the term “depressed” is often loosely used to describe an intense feeling of sadness. Sometimes teenage clients will say “I feel depressed” to express that they feel down, blue, lonely, discouraged, disappointed, or very sad. While sadness is certainly a normal feeling generally experienced in response to some kind of loss or rejection, chronic feelings of sadness over an extended period of time (and often accompanied by other problems) can become a genuine concern. It is understandable then that parents, who see changes in their child’s mood and behaviour, may wonder whether their child or teenager can be suffering from depression. Indeed, children and teenagers can be diagnosed with depression (also known as a Major Depressive Disorder), although their symptoms may look somewhat different from clinically depressed adults.SadteenbyDavidCastilloDominici

What to Look For?

Below are some of the key symptoms of depression:

  • depressed mood most of the day (i.e., reports feeling sad, or are tearful and crying easily);
  • irritable or cranky mood (i.e., angrier than usual);
  • bodily aches and pains (such as stomachaches and headaches);
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities (e.g., ‘does not care anymore’ about activities they used to enjoy);
  • social withdrawal (e.g., avoids being with friends or family);
  • changes in appetite (e.g., does not feel hungry and has to force themselves to eat OR increased appetite for sweets or carbs) resulting in weight loss and/or weight gain;
  • difficulty sleeping (e.g., has trouble falling asleep or wakes up in the middle of the night and is unable to go back to sleep);
  • decreased energy and/or fatigue and tiredness (e.g., small tasks require a lot of energy and effort to complete);
  • psychomotor agitation or restlessness
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating at school;
  • feelings of worthlessness;
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation

  • What to Do?

    DepressionbyDavidCastilloDominiciIf you notice that your child or teen is experiencing five or more of the symptoms listed above for two weeks or longer and that his or her daily functioning is significantly affected (whether at home or at school or both), then it is very possible that your child is suffering from depression. Importantly, I strongly recommend that you seek professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, and/or family physician in order to have a proper assessment, diagnosis, and to receive the most appropriate treatment for your child. Of course, if you have any concerns about your child’s mental health, you are encouraged to consult your family doctor and speak to your child’s teacher, guidance counsellor, or school psychologist.

    To learn more about depression, you may want to consult or the Canadian Mental Health Association for specific information about depression in children.

    I hope this post helps answer some of your questions. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

    Best wishes,
    Dr. Stephanie

    Image at top courtesy of Simon Howden /
    Images at left both courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /