Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(10):2311-2312

See related article on depression in children and adolescents.

What should I do if I think my child or teen is depressed?

Ask your child about his or her thoughts and feelings. It may also be a good idea to talk to your doctor about your child's behavior and your concerns about depression. In most cases, taking your child to your doctor's office is a good idea. A medical problem may be causing the depression. Your doctor may want to give your child a general medical check-up and get some blood tests.

What are some of the signs of depression in young children and teens?

Infants and preschool children may have a poor appetite and may lose weight. You may notice that they don't seem to enjoy playing.

School-aged children may be less confident. They might feel like they can't do anything right. Older children and teens may stop caring about themselves or family members, may not want to go to school and, in general, may lose interest in life activities. Older children may also show signs of eating more and sleeping more, or eating less and sleeping less.

In some children, the only signs of depression may be headache, stomachache, not wanting to go to school or losing their temper. When these signs last for several weeks, they might mean your child is depressed.

Why do young people get depressed?

Here are some of the reasons children and teens might get depressed:

  • The family moves to another place to live.

  • The child has to change to a new school.

  • A pet or a friend dies.

  • Someone in the family is very sick.

  • The hormonal changes of puberty can cause depression.

What can be done to help depressed children and teens?

Medicine and counseling help children and teens who are depressed. Most depressed children and teens should talk to a counselor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist about what is making them feel the way they are feeling. Family counseling can help everyone in the family. Your family doctor can refer you and your child to someone for counseling

Medicines also can help treat depression. Most depressed children and teens do best when they get both counseling and medicine.

Where can I get more information about depression in children and teens?

  • American Psychiatric Association

  • 1400 K St. NW

  • Washington DC 20005

  • Telephone: 1-202-682-6000

  • Web site: http://www.psych.org

  • American Psychological Association

  • 750 First St. NE

  • Washington DC 20002-4242

  • Telephone: 1-202-336-5500

  • Web site: http://www.apaa.org

  • NAMI—National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

  • Colonial Place Three

  • 2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300

  • Arlington VA 22201-3042

  • Telephone: 1-800-950-6264

  • Web site: http://www.nami.org

  • Federation of Families for Children's

  • Mental Health

  • 1101 King St., Suite 420

  • Alexandria VA 22314

  • Telephone: 1-702-684-7710

  • Web site: http://www.ffcmh.org

  • National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association

  • 730 N. Franklin St., Suite 501

  • Chicago IL 60610-3526

  • Telephone: 1-800-806-3632

  • Web site: http://www.ndmda.org

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