Depression in children and adolescents is more common than you might think. It is something we diagnose and treat every day in pediatrics. Depression affects 3.2% of children ages 3-17 and often goes undiagnosed and/or untreated. Many children with depression also have anxiety and behavioral problems.
Depression can look different depending on the age and temperament of the child. Older kids and teenagers may have more classic depression symptoms such as:
- Feeling sad and hopeless
- Feeling worthless and guilty
- Not enjoying their normal activities
- Becoming withdrawn from family and friends
But sometimes depression in kids can be more subtle. Many children do not outwardly “seem sad” or communicate that they are sad to their parents. Some other symptoms in children can include:
- Irritability or crabbiness
- Less motivated in school with slipping grades or trouble paying attention
- Sleeping more or less than normal
- Eating more or less than normal
All of these can be symptoms of depression. For this reason we screen all children 12 and up for depression at well visits. It is also crucial for parents to bring up any mood or behavior concerns so we can address it quickly.
One of the reasons we try to diagnose depression quickly is because extreme depression in children and teens can lead to suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and young adults from ages 10-24. As a parent, there are things you can do to help recognize and prevent suicide in a child at risk, including:
- Bringing them in quickly to pediatrician for any new mood or behavior concerns
- Never dismiss comments such as “Everyone would be better without me” or “Nothing matters” as teenage drama or moodiness
- Take any written threats on social media seriously
- If you keep guns at home, remove from home temporarily or ensure they are safely stored
If you are concerned your child may have depression, schedule a visit with your pediatrician to discuss right away, even if they are not due for a well check. In the meantime, seeking out a counselor or therapist is always a good start. You can start the search on your own, often without needing a referral from a doctor. Three great places to start are:
- Northeast Peds! We have counselors available at all three locations. Call to schedule.
- MindPeace (includes therapists that come to public schools - can search by school and find contact information) https://mindpeacecincinnati.com/
- Psychology Today (can filter by insurance and age) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
If you are concerned your child is in crisis and their safety is at risk, you can call one of the 24/7 crisis numbers below or take them to Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department:
- Cincinnati Children’s Crisis Line (called “PIRC” or psychiatric intake response center) at 513-636-4124
- National Suicide Prevention Lifelife: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text TALK to 741741
- By July 2022, you will be able to dial 988 from any phone to reach this line
Some books that can be helpful if you are worried about depression or have a child with a diagnosis of depression include:
- Helping Your Depressed Child, by Martha Underwood Barnard
- Depression: A Teen’s Guide to Survive and Thrive, by Jacqueline Toner
- Stick Up for Yourself: Every Kid’s Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self Esteem, by Gershen Kaufman and Lev Raphael
- What to Do When You Grumble Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Negativity, by Dawn Huebner
Some helpful online resources for depression:
Stephanie O'Rourke, MD, has been a Provider with Northeast Cincinnati Pediatrics since 2020 and currently sees patients in our Mason office Monday evenings and in our Blue Ash office on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.