Brain, Nervous System and Mental Conditions

Depression Symptoms and Diagnosis

What causes depression in children and teens?

There is a genetic component to depression. The condition is more common among kids with a family history of depression.

Stress plays a key role in the start of depression. It can also cause your child's symptoms to continue. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes and might include:

  • School pressures
  • Problems with peers
  • Family conflict
  • Pressures of adolescence (moving from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school, romantic relationships, etc.)

The changes that take place during puberty put children at greater risk of having depression and anxiety. They are likely to react more emotionally due to their stage of brain development and the fact that they don't yet have effective problem-solving skills.

Some very young children seem to be at risk of depression. For these children, it is likely a combination of a genetic risk, temperament and difficulty getting involved and enjoying activities.

Symptoms of Depression

Your child or teen may have some or all of these signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness or feeling irritable
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Weight changes
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling tired a lot
  • Feeling guilty
  • Trouble thinking or paying attention
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

Other symptoms may include hopelessness, anxiety, aches and pains and oppositional behavior (being uncooperative and hostile).

Depression can cause:

  • School and social problems
  • An increased risk of suicide and substance use
  • Family problems
  • Repeated episodes of depression

Due to the long-term consequences of depression, it should be taken seriously and treated.

Depression Diagnosis

As part of the diagnostic process, a mental health professional will do a short interview with you and your child. You both will also be asked to fill out a questionnaire.

Based on those tools, the mental health professional will work with you to develop a treatment plan that meets your child's needs. Read about treatment options.