Article | March 2018

Depression in Children

Know the warning signs and help your child overcome it

Depression might seem like an adult problem. But children and teenagers can struggle with depression, too. The good news is that it can be successfully treated. Learn to spot the symptoms, find the causes, and get help for your child.

Know the warning signs

Many signs of depression can also be normal behaviors in children and teens. But if your child has any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks, talk to his or her doctor. Signs of depression can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities or pastimes
  • A sudden increase or decrease in appetite
  • Insomnia or unusual sleepiness
  • Talk of suicide or death
  • Low energy
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Changes in school performance (lower grades, cutting classes, or dropping out of activities)
  • Giving away prized possessions

Pinpoint the cause

Depression has many causes. Find the trigger for your child's depression to help you get him the right treatment. Causes of depression include:

  • Biology: Researchers believe that some depression is biological. It's caused by a biochemical disturbance in the brain. This disturbance affects behavior, thoughts, and feelings. This type of depression can be genetic.1
  • Medications: Some over-the-counter and prescription medicines can cause depression. Check with your child's doctor or pharmacist. You may need to change medications.
  • Grief: Depression can be triggered by the loss of a loved one or a major life change. Divorce, remarriage, relocation, or changing schools can rock a child's world. His reaction may be expressed physically or emotionally. Allow time for grieving, and encourage your children to talk about their feelings. Make sure they know it’s okay to express their emotions. And avoid telling them to "snap out of it."
  • Seasonal changes: Depression can happen during winter, when there's less sunlight and we spend more time indoors. When the sun is out, spend some time outdoors with your child.

How can I help?

It's common for children to mistakenly feel alone and unloved. If you think your child is suffering from depression, tune in. Some extra attention may help him feel less alone. Feeling loved and valued can also help him put his feelings into perspective.

Many children, like adults, need extra help coping with depression. If your child has signs of depression for more than a few weeks, check with your child's doctor. Therapy may be helpful.

Depression in teens

The suicide rate in teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940s.2 If a teenager threatens suicide, take him or her seriously. It's rare for teenagers to be cheerful most of the time. Mood swings and bouts of sleepiness are a normal part of growth. But stay alert to the warning signs of depression. If it's not treated, depression can last months or longer. And it can lead to suicide. Depression in teens can be successfully treated with therapy. Sometimes it takes a combination of medication and therapy.

Mother comforting frustrated daughter

1 Harvard Health Publishing, What Causes Depression?

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide Among Youth

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.