Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 2007;75(1):83-84

See related article on childhood and adolescent depression.

What is depression?

Depression is an illness that makes you feel sad or hopeless. If your child has depression, he or she may seem less confident or lose interest in things he or she used to enjoy. Your child may have trouble focusing, or seem grouchy or angry. He or she may not want to go to school. His or her eating habits may change. Some children with depression have aches and pains.

Depression is a serious illness. It is not your child's fault if he or she is depressed.

What causes depression?

Depression may be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. It can be triggered by stressful events, like losing a parent or loved one, the breakup of a relationship, abuse, or a physical illness. Depression also can run in families.

How is depression treated?

Depression can be treated with counseling or with medicines called antidepressants, or both. Counseling usually is used for mild or moderate depression. Counseling and medicine together are used for more severe depression.

Are antidepressants addictive?

No. They balance chemicals in the brain. They do not cause a “high.” But the body gets used to having the medicine, so your child may have side effects like headache or dizziness if the medicine is stopped too quickly. Your doctor will talk with you about stopping the medicine slowly when your child is ready.

Can antidepressants cause suicide?

There may be a link, but it is not known for sure if taking these medicines can cause someone to try suicide. Remember that depression makes people more likely to try suicide. To be safe, antidepressants have a warning label about the risk of suicidal actions. These actions include talking about suicide and hurting themselves. You should watch your child carefully for suicidal behavior when he or she is taking an antidepressant.

What should I do if my child talks about suicide?

Your child needs to be watched by an adult. Call your child's doctor right away or take your child to the nearest emergency room. The doctor will be able to find out your child's suicide risk.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

American Psychiatric Association

American Psychological Association

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Girls and Boys Town Hotline

  • Web site:http://www.girlsandboystown.org/hotline/index.asp

  • Telephone: 1-800-448-3000

Mental Health America

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

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