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Depression in Children

10 Nov 2008 9:04 PM -

Childhood is usually associated with happiness and trouble-free fun, but everyone knows children can also have sad and miserable times in their lives such as family losses, personal disappointments and life difficulties. Until recently, we have tended to assume all children can bounce back emotionally from events such as these. However, persistent and unremitting sadness and hopelessness in children should ring alarm bells in parents, siblings and carers.

Some studies have found:

  • 4 in every 100 preschoolers (4%) have some symptoms of depression
  • 10 in 100 (10%) of children between the ages of 6 and 12 have persistent feelings of sadness which can last weeks or months
  • 2 in 100 (2%) children become seriously depressed
  • 5 in 100 (5%) of young people over 12 years suffer a major depressive illness that lasts for weeks or months
  • Before puberty rates of depression are equal and girls and boys, but after puberty more girls than boys experience depression.

What to look for

Symptoms of depression in children can include:

  • Prolonged sad mood lasting weeks or months
  • Loss of interest in normal activities such as playing and games
  • Sudden outbursts of anger, aggression and/or crying
  • Excessive fear or anxiety
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in appetite; weight gain/loss
  • Constant physical complaints with no apparent cause
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Tiredness, lack of energy, trouble sleeping or too much sleep
  • Marked drop in school performance
  • Self harm or thoughts of suicide

Causes of depression in children

Depression in children is often related to family losses, health problems, life adversities such as:

  • Ongoing conflict in the family or between parents
  • Family breakup
  • Death of close people or animals
  • Major life changes (moving house or school)
  • Serious or chronic health problems
  • Abuse or bullying
  • Some medications

These adverse life events may combine with a genetic vulnerability in children who have a family history of mental illness to result in a depressive illness.

What to do

Treatment of depression is essential, as childhood and adolescence are vital times for personality development and social development. Concerned parents should consult their local doctor who will consider whether referral to a child psychologist or counsellor is adequate to address the problem, or whether other action is needed. Children with suspected severe depression should be referred immediately to the local Child/Youth Mental Health Service (CYMHS) or a private child psychiatrist. In some cases, antidepressant medications may be necessary, and children on antidepressants should be managed by a team of professionals including the local GP, psychiatrists and other allied mental health professionals.


1. http://www.mentalhealth.asn.au/

2. www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/

3. www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/depression/inchildren.cfm