Depression in children and adolescents is a state of sadness and the inability to enjoy previously favorite activities. While it may manifest similarly to major depressive disorder in adults, this illness in youth may present as increased irritability or self-destructive behavior.
Depression in all ages is diagnosed by the same criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). The definition of a major depressive episode is a syndrome with manifestations that occur in the same 2-week span. At least 1 of the following symptoms must be present in this period:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Anhedonia (the inability to find interest or pleasure in enjoyable activities)
Additionally, at least 4 of the following must be present:
- Changes in appetite or difficulty with gaining age appropriate weight (in children)
- Difficulty with sleeping
- Difficulty with concentration or decision-making
- Feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty
- Energy loss or fatigue
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Suicidal thoughts and/or ideations
In addition to the above signs, depressed individuals may exhibit atypical features or even catatonic features that must be assessed.
The overall clinical presentation should include poor performance academically, behaviorally, socially, and other key aspects as well.
When evaluating the patient, the clinician must distinguish a major depressive episode from other disorders such as seasonal mood disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Also, family history should be assessed as depression can be passed from one generation to the next .
Entire Body System
“For the most part, children and teens experience fatigue and irritability and other physical complaints,” such as aches and pains, Serani said. Kids also may seem bored and withdrawn and experience loss of interest. [psychcentral.com]
Additionally, the patient may experience fatigue and/or difficulties with concentration, sleeping, and eating. Overall, children and adolescents with depression suffer from poor academic, social and family functioning. [symptoma.com]
[…] child has enjoyed Negative point of view Frequent thoughts of death Expressions of hopelessness Suicidal intentions Alcohol or drug use Anger or irritability Physiological Changes Disrupted sleep patterns Serious loss of or increase in appetite Constant fatigue [bradleyhospital.org]
Successful treatment of depression in children complicated by pain symptoms constitutes a great clinical challenge. Duloxetine has already emerged as a safe and effective treatment option for adult depressed patients with painful physical symptoms. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Thousands of kids, from diverse backgrounds, consider taking their own lives not to get attention, but to stop the pain, anguish and confusion associated with undiagnosed and untreated mental disorders. [discoveryranch.net]
Aches and pains when nothing is really wrong. Frequent thoughts of death or suicide.Early detection and diagnosis are key in treating kids with depression. [lfcsmo.org]
Physical complaints, stomach aches, pain (with no medical cause) Poor school or work performance (poor concentration) Thoughts of dying or suicide ( get help immediately) Feeling like nothing matters If you or your child are experiencing symptoms like [mindwell.us]
They can rule out whether medical conditions, such as anemia, are mimicking depressive symptoms. If difficulties continue, a consultation with a mental health professional with experience working with children is recommended by Greblo. [channel3000.com]
“For example, diabetes, anemia, mononucleosis or a simple streptococcus infection can mimic depressive symptoms.” That’s why ruling out medical conditions first is key. Get a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional. [psychcentral.com]
Laboratory tests The patient's clinical presentation will guide the selection of tests which may include complete blood count (CBC) to ascertain the presence of infection or anemia. [symptoma.com]
Precipitating factors include use of drugs (particularly ≥ 3 new drugs), infection, dehydration, shock, hypoxia, anemia, immobility, undernutrition, use of bladder catheters (whether urinary retention is present or not), hospitalization, pain, sleep deprivation [msdmanuals.com]
Histopathological observations are incidentally made in these asymptomatic patients. They have mainly sub-pleural emphysematous areas and smoker's macrophages within alveoli. [spandidos-publications.com]
In the early phase, the tumor is an asymptomatic, small, indurated plaque. It may be pink, purplish-red, or similar to the surrounding normal skin in color. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Occasionally, DIP may be diagnosed in an asymptomatic individual [ 3, 5, 6 ]. Bibasilar end-inspiratory crackles and cyanosis are frequently present, and clubbing is not rare [ 1, 3, 5, 6, 10 ]. [err.ersjournals.com]
- Severe Pain
We report a case documenting successful use of duloxetine in a depressed girl child who also had severe pain and dissociative symptoms. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
- Abdominal Pain
Abstract Children with recurrent abdominal pain without demonstrable organic etiology are studied with their mothers during pediatric hospitalization. Major childhood depressive illness is found which is not masked by the somatic complaint. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
High levels of depression in both groups of depressed children were associated with low levels of conflict and anger in family members. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Excessive anger and irritability can also be signs of depression. Our best advice is to be observant of your children all the time and to pay special attention to changes that persist or seem unnatural. [bradleyhospital.org]
Signs that may indicate depression in children: Change in personality, such as increased anger, irritability, moodiness, or whining; Change in appetite, usually a loss of appetite; Change in sleep patterns, such as difficulty failing asleep, staying asleep [ldaamerica.org]
- Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem. Trouble focusing or making choices. School grades may drop. Not caring about what happens in the future. Aches and pains when nothing is really wrong. Frequent thoughts of death or suicide. [healthychildren.org]
Low self-esteem. Trouble with focusing or making choices. School grades may drop. Not caring about what happens in the future. Aches and pains when nothing is really wrong. [lfcsmo.org]
self-concept-self-esteem, poor social skills (communication, cooperation, assertiveness…), and low resilience. [frontiersin.org]
Or an absence of pleasure derived from relationships; Low self-esteem, frequently expressed through self-deprecating and negative talk; Indecisiveness; Difficulty with concentration (not to be confused with attention deficit disorder); Feelings of helplessness [ldaamerica.org]
All kids have their ups and downs, but if your child is unusually irritable, sad or withdrawn for a prolonged period of time she may be showing signs of depression. [childmind.org]
Older adolescents and adults tend to become withdrawn. They may be quiet or become agitated, irritable, and angry; they may also look sad and talk about their sadness. [ldaamerica.org]
This might vary from child to child, but can manifest in things like: Feeling/looking sad, withdrawn, apathetic, or down Irritability and temper tantrums Saying negative things about themselves or the world Feeling worried or frightened, including having [telethonkids.org.au]
Children generally become more quiet and withdrawn, losing their vitality and interest in all the things that kids usually love, like playing with toys and friends, going to parties etc. [under5s.co.nz]
- Feeling of Worthlessness
A lack of energy or feeling unable to do simple tasks. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Low self-esteem. Trouble with focusing or making choices. School grades may drop. Not caring about what happens in the future. [lfcsmo.org]
Physical, verbal and emotional abuse all degrade the victim leading to feelings of worthlessness, and low self-esteem, and this in turn leads to depression. [australiacounselling.com.au]
As well as showing many of the same symptoms of adult depression, some symptoms of depression in children are: a downward trend in performance at school, loss of energy and extreme tiredness, agitation and restlessness, and a feeling of worthlessness. [theguardian.com]
Fear information and the development of fears during childhood: Effects on implicit fear responses and behavioural avoidance. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Nov 2003;41(11):1277-1293. Gerull FC, Rapee RM. [child-encyclopedia.com]
Many children have fears and worries, and will feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears will appear at different times in development. [cdc.gov]
Therefore, it makes sense to think that when it comes to children, it’s important not to weigh happiness so heavily that they fear that experiencing any other emotion is failure. [salon.com]
[…] academic, family, and social functioning; Loss of interest in school, which typically results in declining academic performance; Loss of interest in friends, and withdrawal; Physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches; Increased anxiety, fears [ldaamerica.org]
It is also possible that we may observe certain motor agitation in depressed children, which is referred to as agitated depression. The child cannot remain seated calmly. It seems like the seat burns his skin. [exploringyourmind.com]
Delirious patients may become more obtunded and confused when treated with sedatives, causing a paradoxical increase in agitation as the sedative effects wear off. [icudelirium.org]
Agitation - Depressed children may show signs of agitation by fidgeting or not being able to sit still. Behavioral Signs of Depression in Children These signs will be the most obvious and easy for your detect. [depression.about.com]
These are some of the most common signs: • Low or sad mood • Greater agitation • Lack of energy • Drop in school performance • Sleep changes • Appetite and weight changes • Trouble concentrating • Diminished pleasure from life or activities previously [channel3000.com]
Agitation may threaten the well-being of the patient, a caregiver, or a staff member. [msdmanuals.com]
- Behavior Problem
All parents who scored above the cutoff for mild depression rated their children as having behavior problems. Children's self-reported depression was also related to negative parental rating of the children's behavior. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
In children and teens, depression often occurs along with behavior problems and other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). School work may suffer. [kidsinthemiddle.org]
problem behaviors, childhood stress); and (2) to identify variables that predict childhood depression. [frontiersin.org]
They may have problems in school, and frequently lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Some parents might think that medication is the solution for depression-related problem behaviors. In fact, that’s not the case. [fda.gov]
Sadly, parental neglect and child abuse are very common in the United States and worldwide. Patients abused or exploited in childhood, who experience neglect or the loss of a parent during childhood, are haunted by these experiences. [mdedge.com]
When depressed adults are asked about their childhood experiences, they are more likely to report neglect, abuse, rejection, and parental conflict. [azcourts.gov]
If this is the case, healthcare professionals need to start tackling the roots of depression in childhood, fully support children and recognise that their mental health is something of great value and importance, an area we have badly neglected in the [theguardian.com]
Abstract The occurrence of depressive disorders in children is a problematic and confusing issue, and it is uncertain whether such behavior should be regarded as manifestations of depression so regarded in adults. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Read on and you’ll see additional signs and symptoms of depression that make it easy to confuse childhood depression and ADHD and can easily cause misdiagnosis. [howtolearn.com]
In fact, benzodiazepines and narcotics that are often used in the ICU to treat “confusion” (delirium) actually worsen cognition and exacerbate the problem. [icudelirium.org]
Or an absence of pleasure derived from relationships; Low self-esteem, frequently expressed through self-deprecating and negative talk; Indecisiveness; Difficulty with concentration (not to be confused with attention deficit disorder); Feelings of helplessness [ldaamerica.org]
When asked about it she said it was her father's harsh criticisms about her study behavior and the clumsiness in the up keep of her personal belongings which made her to manifest the anger and physical aggression of breaking the ruler into pieces. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Clinical evaluation includes the patient's personal and family history, a physical and psychiatric exam, and studies to exclude other etiologies such as infection, neurologic disorder, endocrine disorder, tumor, or another illness.
The patient's clinical presentation will guide the selection of tests which may include complete blood count (CBC) to ascertain the presence of infection or anemia. Further investigations such as serum electrolytes, creatinine, creatinine clearance, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and urine osmolality may be necessary to determine if renal causes are responsible for the patient's symptoms. Another important consideration is performing thyroids functions tests to rule out a thyroid disorder.
As expected, a full psychiatric assessment is essential. The survey known as the Children’s Depression Inventory can help the clinician understand the severity of the depression.
Additional studies may be indicated to help clarify the full clinical picture. For example, young individuals with present or past episodes of seizures should undergo electroencephalography (EEG).
The therapeutic approach depends on the overall clinical presentation and factors such as the severity and chronicity of symptoms, patient's age, previous history of depression, past response to treatment, compliance, and others conditions as well.
Younger children may warrant psychotherapy initially and antidepressants in more severe cases. In adolescents, an effective regimen includes both psychotherapy and antidepressants. Furthermore, CBT ( Cognitive-based therapy) is very helpful as evidenced by numerous randomized clinical trials.
With regards to antidepressants, the most common choices for depressed children and adolescents are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which include sertraline, fluoxetine, and paroxetine. In contrast, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are not as effective in children and tend to cause more side effects. Note that medications such as TCAs require periodic monitoring of plasma levels to avoid toxicity.
Since depressive episodes are recurring, treatment should be continued for a year or more after recovery.
Patients should be assessed for suicidal thoughts and their risk for executing self-harm. Close monitoring and possibly even hospitalization may be required to protect suicidal patients or those without adequate home supervision .
A key component in the treatment of depressed individuals is the support provided by family, the physicians and mental health team, and school teachers. Regular individual and family psychotherapy sessions should be part of the patient's management. Also, parents or guardians must be included in treatment planning and supervision of the child. Additionally, social workers can find emotional and financial resources to fund the treatment of the children.
There were questions raised concerning the small risk of suicidal ideations and attempts associated with antidepressant use in the pediatric population. However, a reduced use of this medication has been linked to higher suicide rates. This controversy led to studies investigating the issue further, in which the results confirmed that antidepressants may increase suicidal thoughts and attempts. But since the benefits likely outweigh the risks, a vast majority of physicians will proceed with treatment under the condition that the medical team and family are vigilant and cautious about warning signs.
Depression in youth may lead to marked morbidity and mortality as this disease can be chronic and recurring. Furthermore, this young population is susceptible to difficulties in the school and social settings and are at high risk for poor outcomes such as substance abuse and suicide .
With regards to treatment, approximately 50% to 60% will experience success with their initial psychotherapy or medication. Of the remainder, those that fail a primary trial of antidepressants will tend to respond to other drugs and/or psychotherapy.
A major depressive episode may resolve spontaneously within 1 to 2 years . However, this disease is characterized by elevated relapsing rates as 40% experience a recurrence within 2 years of remission and as many as 70% have a repeating episode within 5 years.
The etiology of childhood depression is likely multifactorial in origin. The genetic and environmental interplay is complex as genetic factors account for as much as 40% variance while environmental factors and their interaction with genetics are responsible for 60% of variances  .
Epidemiologic studies investigating depression in the pediatric population reported a rate of 2.8% in individuals younger than 13 and a rate of 5.6% in adolescents between 13 and 18 years of age.
In terms of patient demographics, both boys and girls have similar rates of depression. However, adolescent females have double the prevalence of their male counterparts. Additionally, childhood depression is more common in the indigenous population  as well as in children with long-term medical illness .
The specific contributions of genetic and environmental factors to childhood depression are yet to be elucidated. Furthermore, the studies investigating the pathophysiology of this disease in children have yielded findings not observed in adults. In contrast to depressed adults, children with depression have not exhibited hypersecretion of cortisol . Depressed children, however, have demonstrated serotonin dysregulation, which is associated with poor stress and emotional reactions, mood disorders and minimized impulse control.
Furthermore, studies suggest that pediatric depression is linked to an interruption in the motivation-and-reward neurologic pathway. Specifically, imaging studies show disruptions in key regions of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and anterior cingulate which are known to regulate emotions, stress response, behavioral inhibition, and occurrence of symptoms of depression .
There are measures that parents, caretakers, and teachers can undertake to help reduce the risk of depression in children and adolescents. Such efforts include providing support and resources to decrease stress and trauma. Additionally, cognitive behavioral prevention programs in the school, community or internet settings could be very helpful  . In this modern age, there are creative technological methods that can also influence children and adolescents to think more positively and develop a good outlook on life and how to deal with difficult issues.
Since psychiatric conditions may coexist together, the clinician must assess the individual thoroughly and screen for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and others as well. Moreover, treatment of these could reduce the risk of depression.
Prevention of self-harm
Since suicidal ideations and attempts are a major risk in depressed individuals, safety is a top priority. The risk for self-harm and other behaviors such as substance use should be assessed during the frequent follow-up appointments. Parents should ensure adequate supervision and implement safety plans.
Management of the patients includes finding the correct medication and dose, addressing any present side effects, and encouraging compliance. Additionally, controlling the depression and preventing relapse is crucial as recurrence is incredibly likely.
Depression in the pediatric population is relatively common especially in children with comorbid psychiatric and developmental disorders. It is also observed in those who experienced trauma or medical illnesses. Childhood depression is associated with high recurrence rates and often continues into adulthood. It is believed that the cause of depression is likely multifactorial with environmental factors and genetics playing a key role.
The age-adjusted diagnostic criteria for depression in children is essentially the same as for adults. This illness manifests as a depressed or irritable mood and/or anhedonia. Additionally, the patient may experience fatigue and/or difficulties with concentration, sleeping, and eating. Overall, children and adolescents with depression suffer from poor academic, social and family functioning.
Early diagnosis and treatment are paramount. Therefore, as soon as parents, other adult caretakers, or teachers recognize the signs and symptoms, the young individual must undergo careful assessment by the appropriate professionals. This includes obtaining the patient's personal and family history, and performing a full psychiatric test among other possible relevant studies.
Once the diagnosis is established, the choice of treatment is based on the consideration of the severity of the illness, the patient's age, whether the patient has had previous episodes and/or treatments, the patient's and family's motivation for treatment, and other factors as well. Cognitive-based therapy (CBT) is the key component in the treatment of depressed youth. Additionally, antidepressants may also be used in certain cases.
Since the disease has a high chance of relapsing and there are increased incidences of suicides in such patients, it is pertinent that they attend frequent follow-up appointments and comply with therapy and treatment. Moreover, parents are often encouraged to utilize the available resources to help their children.
Depression affects not just adults but children and adolescents as well. In fact, approximately 5% of the young population suffer from depression at any given time. Children that are susceptible to depression are those who suffer a loss, or experience stress, illness or trauma. Additionally, individuals who have psychiatric, developmental, or attention disorders are prone to developing depression. Furthermore, a family history also increases the risk.
What are the signs of depression?
Children and adolescents with depression often feel sad and experience difficulty functioning academically, behaviorally, and socially. Sometimes a child does not look sad but can exhibit depression in other ways. Examples of childhood depression may include a child who previously enjoyed playing with friends but now has withdrawn socially; or a child who misses school days, can not concentrate, and is doing poorly in school; or a child who is behaving badly and causing trouble at school and home. Of course, depression should always be suspected when an individual expresses interest in suicide. The following are symptoms of depression:
- Feelings of sadness; crying
- Low interest in hobbies and activities and the inability to find satisfaction and joy in favorite activities
- Low self-esteem and feeling of low self-worth
- Feeling sensitive to rejection
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling angry and irritable
- Difficulty with relationships and social situations
- Social isolation
- Fatigue and low energy
- Poor concentration
- Poor school attendance or poor academic performance
- Sleep changes
- Eating difficulties or poor weight gain for age
- Complaints of headaches and upset stomachs
- Thoughts or attempts to run away from home
- Thoughts or attempts of suicide or self-harm
- Substance abuse
How is childhood depression diagnosed?
As soon as the signs and symptoms are recognized, the parents must promptly seek care and treatment for the child. The clinician will perform full personal and family evaluation and gain a complete understanding of the patient's symptoms. Sometimes, blood tests will be performed to rule out other causes of the patient's symptoms.
How is the childhood depression treated?
The earlier the treatment, the better for the depressed individual. Some of the most effective ways of treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). Additionally, family therapy is also very helpful for the children as well as the parents.
There are cases where therapy is not sufficient by itself. Therefore, antidepressants are added as well.
What is the prognosis?
Childhood depression has a high recurrence rate that parents and caretakers should be aware of. Hence close and frequent follow-up appointments with the medical team are absolutely essential.
It is important to remember that children and adolescents with depression are at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Therefore, they require supervision. The mental health professional and the parents can formulate safety plans to ensure this. Also, parents should watch out for self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse.
What can the family do?
Treating a child will require a team effort as family and friends can provide major support for the depressed child or adolescent. For example, attending family therapy session, staying up to date on follow-up appointments, and showing love and compassion are all crucial. Also, parents can attend support groups and draw encouragement from others who are also dealing with similar situations.
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