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Depression in Children & Adolescents

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Facts on Depression in Children & Adolescents:

  1. A number of epidemiological studies have reported that up to 2.5% of children and up to 8.3% of adolescents in the United States suffer from depression.
  2. Research indicates that depression onset is occurring earlier in life today than in past decades.
  3. Early-onset depression often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, and may also predict more severe illness in adult life.
  4. Depression in young people often co-occurs with other mental disorders, most commonly anxiety, disruptive behavior, or substance abuse disorders, and with physical illnesses such as diabetes.
  5. Diagnosis of the disorder in children and young adolescents is more difficult than in adults because the way the symptoms are expressed varies with the developmental stage of the child.
  6. Children & yound adolescents with depression may have difficulty in properly identifying and describing their internal emotional or mood states.
  7. While the recovery rate from a single episode of mejor depression in children and adolescents is quite high, episodes are likely to recur.
  8. During adolescence, girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression.
  9. Children who develop major depression are more likely to have a family history of the disorder, often a parent who experienced depression at an early age.
  10. Adolescents with depression are also likely to have a family history of depression, though the correlation is not as high as it is for children
  11. Risk factors include: family history; stress; cigarette smoking; a loss of a parent or loved one; break-up of a romantic relationship; attentional, conduct, or learning disorders; abuse or neglect; other trauma, including natural disasters.

Types of Depressive Disorders:

Depressive disorders, which include major depressive disorder (unipolar depression), dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression), and bipolar disorder (manic-depression), can have far reaching effects on the functioning and adjustment of young people. Among both children and adolescents, depressive disorders confer an increased risk for illness and interpersonal and psychosocial difficulties that persist long after the depressive episode is resolved; in adolescents there is also an increased risk for substance abuse and suicidal behavior. Unfortunately, these disorders often go unrecognized by families and physicians alike. Signs of depressive disorders in young people often are viewed as normal mood swings typical of a particular developmental stage. In addition, health care professionals may be reluctant to prematurely "label" a young person with a mental illness diagnosis. Yet early diagnosis & treatment of depressive disorders are critical to health emotional, social, and behavioral deveopment. 

Child & Adolescent Depression and Suicide:
Depression in children and adolescents is associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviors. This risk may rise, particularly among adolescent boys, if the depression is accompanied by conduct disorder and alcohol or other substance abuse.
In 1997, suicide was the third leading cause of death in 10 - 24 year-olds.
The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)-supported researchers found that among adolescents who develop major depressive disorder, as many as 7% may commit suicide in the young adult years.
Early diagnosis & treatment, accurate evaluation of suicidal thinking, and limiting young people's access to lethal agents--including firearms and medications--may hold the greatest suicide prevention value.


Symptoms of Major Depression include:
  • Persistent sad or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite or body weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Frequent vague, non-specific physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or tiredness
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying
  • Being bored
  • Lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Social isolation or poor communication
  • Fear of death
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Reckless behavior
  • Difficulty with relationships