Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem in the United States. Each year it affects 17 million people of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. As many as 1 in 35 children may have depression and in teens that number is higher, 1 in 8.
Depression is not just a bad mood or the occasional melancholy or morose feeling. It’s not being sad or feeling down. These feelings are all normal in children and will pass with time. It’s normal for kids to experience a disappointment or setback and be sad or angry, but usually the feelings pass with time. When those moods seem to linger and worsen, to the point where it limits a persons ability to function, it can be diagnosed by a professional as depression.
Types of depression can include Major Depression, Dysthymia, Adjustment Disorder with Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and Bipolar Depression (or Manic Depression). All of these can affect children and teenagers.
The cause of depression usually can’t be linked to one event or reason. Most of the time, it’s the result of several factors, which are never the same for each person. Depression can be caused by lowered levels of chemicals in the brain that carry signals through the nervous system (neurotransmitters). Genetics are also a factor, as depression can run in families. Significant life events can trigger depression, as well as new levels of stress.
If you worry that depression is something your child is facing, please talk to a health care professional as soon as possible. Diagnosing depression takes a detailed clinical evaluation. Criteria for depression includes five or more of the following symptoms, that have been present for longer than two weeks:
- a feeling of being down in the dumps or really sad for no reason
- a lack of energy, feeling unable to do the simplest task
- an inability to enjoy the things that used to bring pleasure
- a lack of desire to be with friends or family members
- feelings of irritability (especially common in kids and teens), anger, or anxiety
- an inability to concentrate
- a marked weight gain or loss (or failure to gain weight as expected), and too little or too much interest in eating
- a significant change in sleep habits, such as trouble falling asleep or getting up
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- aches and pains even though nothing is physically wrong
- a lack of caring about what happens in the future
- frequent thoughts about death or suicide