Brain, Nervous System and Mental Conditions


What is depression?

It's normal to sometimes feel sad, blue or less motivated to do the things we usually enjoy. But parents and caretakers need to act when signs of depression or anxiety begin to get in the way of a child's or teen's ability to successfully take part in school, family and social activities. Fortunately, there are treatments available that work.

Depression can affect children of all ages, even preschoolers. Children and adolescents may not know how to talk about feeling down or worried, and may become withdrawn or less cooperative or irritable. Depression becomes more common as youth move through adolescence. More than half of adolescents report feeling depressed at some point. Anxiety is often part of a depressed mood. Anxiety (PDF) is feeling fearful, threatened or panicky with no clear cause.

Depression related to chronic illness

We see many children and adolescents who are dealing with the stress of chronic illness, traumatic injury or serious disease.

We'll treat your child's individual needs and coordinate care (including medicines) with your child's medical team.

Depression at Seattle Children’s

Our goal is to help your child get back to doing the activities that give them joy.

We're experts in dealing with the unique challenges of depression in children and teens and in the ways it affects families. But we realize that you know your child best. Our Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine team will work with you and your child to develop a treatment plan that addresses your child's symptoms and individual needs.

Our approach to treating depression is to share skills and strategies that have been shown to help. We're also doing research to develop new treatments and to find out which treatments work.

What should I do if I’m concerned about my child?

  • Look for ways to talk with your child or adolescent about reducing stress. Work together to find ways to reduce stress in the home, family and in your child's daily life. Be cautious about sharing your own stress with your child or teen.
  • Encourage and support your child in getting enough sleep. Trouble sleeping and poor sleep habits are a very common problem among teens, and can lead to depression and anxiety or make them worse.
  • Promote healthy eating and daily exercise.
  • Pay attention to how much your child's symptoms prevent them from taking part in daily life.
  • It's time to take action if your child's depression or anxiety causes them to "drop out" of their life (no longer seeing friends, leaving a team, falling grades).

If your child’s symptoms don't go away, get worse or make it hard for them to function, talk to your pediatrician or primary care provider and ask for a referral for a mental health evaluation. If your child refuses to go to the appointment, it's a good idea for you or another parent or caregiver to go to the appointment to get support and learn ways to support your child.

If your child is threatening self-harm, take them to the Emergency Department for an evaluation.  

Learn more about how depression is diagnosed and treated at Seattle Children's.