Does your child or adolescent exhibit depression?

What Is Depression?  Is it serious?

Depression can appear as sadness or anger in children.  It is not uncommon, particularly after a major life change (like a divorce, a move, or even a change in schools).  These changes are referred to as psychosocial stressors.  It would be quite normal to have a period of adjustment after such an event, and it is important to allow your child to have and express their feelings.  Many times, just being able to talk about emotion can be a relief to kids.  Support and encouragement are also welcomed from parents and family in making transitions.

Sadness and anger during an adjustment after a major life event is usually short lived, and should be resolved once stability and routine are established again.  Sometimes, the moodiness can interfere with making transitions and adjustments to change.  This is called an Adjustment Disorder.  It can compound the problem, and may require professional help (therapy) on an individual or family basis to address feelings and behavior.  Restoring self esteem, friendships, and school functioning will help to improve the situation.  Sometimes, talking to someone else than parents or family is necessary...  and an objective person like a psychologist can have an advantage since the child or adolescent does not have to worry about consequences of what they say or feel.

Major Depression

Major life events such as a death, or loss of a parent through divorce, can trigger a more severe condition.  This is called a Major Depression.  Symptoms can include withdrawal from others, excessive sleep or insomnia, appetite loss or overeating, and feelings of hopelessness.  Symptoms are usually present most days, for most of the day, for an extended periond of time.  This is a serious condition that often requires professional intervention.

If a child expresses feelings or thoughts about hurting themself, or wanting to die, these should be taken seriously as a cry for help.  Suicide in children and adolescents does occur, especially if the individual is severely depressed.  If a child is a danger to themselves, going to a nearby hospital Emergency Room is a good idea.  Once in a safe environment, a plan for treatment can be determined.   A plan might incude counseling, medication, or a psychiatric hospitalization.


Another type of depression occurs which is called Dysthymia.  With this condition a depressed mood is present only some days, but lasts for a year or more.  (Getting help can certainly be considered before waiting a year!)  Sadness is a frequent sign, but irritability and anger are also notable signs in children and adolescents.  Dysthymia can interfere with school and social functioning in significant ways.  Therapy for this condition is common, and often does not require medication or hospitalization.

Other Causes of Depression

Depression can also be caused by a chronic general medical condition (such as cancer or Multiple Schlorosis), or can be a sign that such a condition exists if not yet detected.  It can also occur as a result of alcohol or chemical use.  Many kids with addictions first gain attention by displaying signs of moodiness.  It can also occur with other disorders with children and adolescents, such as an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), an Anxiety Disorder, a Conduct Disorder, a Learning Disorder, or Mental Retardation.

What to do about a depressed child or adolescent

Seeking professional help can be an excellent way to sort through these issues to determine accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.

Parents are often not equipped to deal with their moody child or adolescent, and may be so frustrated or angry with the persistence of signs and symptoms that they become overwhelmed themselves.  Getting individual therapy for their child can be highly beneficial, and it does help!  Starting family therapy to deal with how depression affects your whole family can also be very helpful (plus more people benefit from the session, and it can help decrease feelings of stigma).

Finding a therapist qualified and experienced in dealing with children or adolescents, or with family therapy, can be difficult.  Generally, there are not enough clinicians available in any one area to serve these needs.

Children and adolescents are an "underserved population", meaning that many children do not receive the necessary counseling.  This can be because conditions are not recognized, because parents are unaware of services available, or due to other reasons.

If you think that your child or adolescent might have depression or any other mental health issue, you should talk to a professional about what to do and how to get help.  Talking to your child's pediatrician is often a good way to get a referral to a competent psychologist, social worker or child psychiatrist.  Another great source for referrals is your health insurance company.  Many have on-line lists of professionals in their network of providers, or have a phone number on your insurance card to consult for referral sources.  If you live in southeast Massachusetts, in Plymouth county, Cranberry Counseling, P.C. in Marshfield would be more than happy to answer your questions and to make an appointment to help diagnose and start a treatment plan for your child or adolescent and your family.  See the Cranberry Counseling page of this web site for more information, or use the Contact Us form.