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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Larson, MD

Signs of Depression in Children & Teens

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Depression is a medical illness that often runs in families. In the United States about 2% of children and 4-8% of teens have Major Depressive Disorder at any given time. By the time youth reach age 18, about 20% will have had a Major Depressive Episode. Another 5-10% of children and teens have “subsyndromal” depression – meaning they have some symptoms of depression but do not meet the full criteria for diagnosis. These numbers do not include the other depressive disorders (persistent depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder).

Untreated depression can lead to problems in multiple areas of a child’s life: school, family and peer relationships. When severe, depression puts children and teens at risk for suicide. The good news is that there are several forms of treatment which have been shown in large studies to be effective.

It is important to recognize early symptoms of depression because early treatment can improve long-term outcomes. Parents know their children the best, so they are at the front line for recognizing depression and getting their children the help they need. But how do you know if your child or teen maybe suffering from depression? Children and teens often show different signs of depression than adults. Here are some of the possible signs of depression in children and teens.

· Persistent sad mood

· Tearfulness

· No longer enjoying activities

· Hopelessness

· Low energy

· Poor self-esteem

· Isolation from friends or family

· Irritability or anger

· Mood swings

· Frequent vague physical complaints

· Changes in sleep

· Changes in appetite

· Substance use

· Discipline problems at home or school

· Thoughts of suicide

If you notice any of these symptoms present for a prolonged period of time, you should have them evaluated by a board-certified psychiatrist. A good place to start is contacting your pediatrician and asking for referrals. If your child is talking about suicide, has tried to hurt themselves or if at any time you feel they are unsafe, take them to an emergency room for immediate evaluation and treatment. If you need immediate assistance, please dial 911.


Dulcan, Mina K. (2016) Dulcan’s Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Second Edition. Arlington VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2018, March) Depression in Children and Teens. Retrieved from

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