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Depression Can Look Different for Kids and Adolescents



Depressed girl sitting on a couch


Depression can look different from one person to the next and can vary even more with children and adolescents. Depression does not always appear as sadness and it is different from the hormonal angst that may be observed as the "moody" teen or pre-teen. It is important to recognize if there has been changes in the child's behavior that appear out of character or they are just not seeming like themselves. Research has shown over 30% of girls and over 20% of boys are experiencing a level of depression that may require support. Many children and adolescents are experiencing a loss of connection and feelings of isolation. Some common symptoms that may be suggesting depression include:

  • Mood changes, increased irritability

  • Sudden bursts of emotion or emotional outbursts over small matters; sulking

  • Child reports feeling misunderstood

  • Behavioral issues at school

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Increased self-doubt or hypercritical assessment of self

  • Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities (not switching childhood interest to other areas of interest, this is a general lack of interest in anything)j

  • Lower energy

  • Hopelessness

  • Somatic symptoms such as: headaches, stomachaches, frequent need for bathroom

  • Decreased attention in self-care

    • Increased or decreased appetite

    • Increased or decreased sleep

    • Lack of bathing

    • Lack of brushing teeth

    • Decreased attention to appearance

  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors such as reckless behavior, substance use, or sexual activities.

Everyone is entitled to a bad day or to feel down, but if the symptoms persist and/or worsen for more than a two-week period, it may be a sign the child needs extra support. It is important not to panic or become critical. There are some things to do at home to help:

  • Keep communication open

  • Try and stay positive

  • Focus on listening and understanding - aim to validate feelings, rather than trying to fix or judge what is shared

  • Get active - outside if possible. Go for a walk, do some yard work, try a new backyard sport

  • Make plans or set goals; whether it is a weekend getaway or major family vacation, start working on the details to have something special to look forward to.

  • Role-model and practice gratitude; it is the little things that add up and make life meaningful

  • Role-model healthy stress tolerance and stress management

  • Role-model healthy self care

If you believe your child is going through a difficult time, and the above strategies do not seem to be enough help; professional help is available. A mental health therapist can help with additional stress management strategies and can help the child learn different ways to think about their current situation, ways to set realistic expectations, and ways to problem-solve. Just having a safe place to share their feelings can relieve some of the stress of the isolation and uncertainty that has been a major part of this past year.


If there is ever an immediate concern with safety, there is also the national crisis line: 1-800-273-TALK

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