The National Mental Health Association

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More than 6 million young people in America suffer from some sort of mental health disorder that severely disrupts his or her ability to function at home, in school, or in their community.) Major depression is one of the mental, emotional and behavior disorders that can appear during childhood and adolescence. Depression in children can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug use, and even suicide. The good news is that depression is a treatable medical illness with definite symptoms and effective treatments, and like many other illnesses, early recognition and t eatment increase the chances that treatment will be successful.

Know the Facts

  • As many as one in every 33 children may have depression.
  • Once a young person has experienced a major depression, he or she is at risk of developing another depression within the next 5 years.
  • Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attention, learning or conduct disorders are at a higher risk for depression.
  • The rate of depression among adolescents is closer to that of depression in adults, and may be as high as one in eight.
  • Two-thirds of children with mental health problems do not get the help they need.

Learn to Recognize the Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of child and adolescent depression vary in severity and duration and may be different from those in adults. Young people with depression may have a hard time coping with everyday activities and responsibilities, difficulty in getting along with others and/or suffer from low self-esteem. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise parents and other important adults in a young person's life to be aware of signs such as:

  • Missed school or poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities once enjoyed
  • Persistent sadness and hopelessness
  • Problems with authority
  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Anger and rage
  • Lack of enthusiasm, low energy or motivation
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


Depressed young people who exhibit additional symptoms, such as insomnia, panic attacks and delusions or hallucinations, are at particular risk for suicide. Child and adolescent psychiatrists recommend that if one or more of these symptoms persists, children need to seek professional help.

Be Aware of the Links Between Depression and Suicide

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24 year olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to-14 year olds.
  • The risk of suicide among people with depression is approximately 30 times higher than the general population.
  • Suicide is particularly likely when a depressive episode begins to lift (the person may feel less tension after having made the decision to end their life).
  • People who drink alcohol in addition to being depressed are at a greater risk for suicide.


What Can Parents/Adults Do?

If parents/adults in a young person's life suspect a problem with depression, they should:

  • Be aware of the behaviors that concern them and note how long the behaviors have been going on, how often and how severe they seem.
  • See a mental health professional or the child's doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.
  • Get accurate information from libraries, hotlines and other sources.
  • Ask questions about treatments and services.
  • Talk to other families in their community.
  • Find family network organizations.

It is important for people who are not satisfied with the mental health care they are receiving to discuss their concerns with the provider, ask for information and seek help from other sources.

Help is Available

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for children with depression. Children who exhibit symptoms of depression should be referred to and further evaluated by a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers. The diagnostic evaluation may include psychological testing, laboratory tests and consultation with other medical specialists. The comprehensive treatment plan may include medical psychotherapy, ongoing evaluations and monitoring, and in some cases, psychiatric medication. Optimally, this plan is developed with the family and, whenever possible, the child or adolescent is involved in the decisions.

Additional Information:

Campaign on Clinical Depression


National Mental Health Association

1-800-969-NMHA –

Depression Awareness, Recognition, and Treatment (D/ART)

National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association


National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry


To locate a free and confidential depression screening site near you,

call 1-800-573-4433

(revised 3/98)




National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service

Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce

these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of

reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is


Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. National Mental Health Association (1998). Clinical Depression and Children/Adolescents, National Mental Health Association: Alexandria, VA.



1021 Prince Street

Alexandria, VA 22314-2971


FAX (703) 684-5968

FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Print – 1 page
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 3 – National Peer Review
ENTRY DATE:: September 1998

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