While we may think of low mood or other challenges as adult problems, they can affect people at any age. Children and teens can experience mental illnesses like depression. Sometimes it can be difficult for adults to understand how difficult children’s problems can be because we look at their problems through adult eyes. But the pressures of growing up can be very hard for some children. It’s important that we remind ourselves that while their problems may seem unimportant to us, they can feel overwhelming to young people. It’s important to take depression in young people seriously.

WHAT IS DEPRESSION?

Depression is a type of mental illness called a mood disorder. Mood disorders affect the way you feel, which also affects the way you think and act. With depression, you may feel ‘down,’ hopeless, or find that you can’t enjoy things you used to like. Many people who experience depression feel irritable or angry. And some people say that they feel ‘numb’ all the time. Recognizing depression in young people can be more difficult than recognizing depression in adults because young people experience so many changes. You may wonder what is ‘normal’ and what might be a problem. Also, many children and teens may not want to talk about their feelings, or may have their own explanation for their experiences. However, you may still notice the following changes.

 

CHANGES IN FEELINGS:

Your child may show signs of being unhappy, worried, guilty, angry, fearful, helpless, hopeless, lonely, or rejected.

CHANGES IN PHYSICAL HEALTH:

Your child may start to complain of headaches or general aches and pains that you can’t explain. They may feel tired all the time or have problems eating or sleeping. Your child may unexpectedly gain or lose weight.

CHANGES IN THINKING:

Your child may say things that indicate low self-esteem, self-dislike or self-blame—for example, they may only talk about themself negatively. They may have a hard time concentrating. In some cases, they may show signs that they’re thinking about suicide.

CHANGES IN BEHAVIOUR:

Your child might withdraw from others, cry easily, or show less interest in sports, games, or other fun activities that they normally enjoy. They might over-react and have sudden outbursts of anger or tears over small incidents.

Some of these changes may be signs of mental health problems other than depression. It’s important to look at the bigger picture: how intense the changes are, how they impact your child’s life, and how long they last. It’s particularly important to talk to your child if you’ve noticed several changes lasting more than two weeks.

WHO DOES IT AFFECT?

Depression often starts between the ages of 15 and 30, but it can affect anyone—even teens and younger children. While we don’t know exactly what causes depression, many factors are likely at play. These include family history, personality, life events, and changes in your child’s body. Certain medications and physical illnesses can also contribute to depression.

WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

Depression is very treatable. Children, teens, and adults can all recover from depression. For children and teens in particular, early treatment is important so they can get back to their education and other goals as quickly as possible.

Support for a young person who experiences depression may come from several different people and places. Your family doctor is often the first place you start, but you may also find support through people like psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, or peer support workers. Many communities offer programs that support healthy children and build social connections—these are also helpful in preventing depression.

Written by Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services

Updated November 2016

For more information contact your health care provider or local public health.

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