Depression in Children

Diagnosing depression in children can be more difficult than determining adult or teen depression.  Read this article to learn what depression symptoms to look for in children and get statistics on depression in children. Also, find treatment options for childhood depression.

Some people may be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as childhood depression. In fact, there was a period during which doctors didn’t think childhood depression existed, but this opinion has been revised in the last twenty years. In fact, recent research leads experts to believe that Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can affect children as early as at age 3. Major Depressive Disorder, also called clinical depression, is classified as a mood disorder and typical symptoms include sadness, withdrawal, eating and sleeping changes, and increased suicide risk.

With the newness of these realizations, it is difficult to find accurate information on the frequency of depression in very young children. However, the National Comorbidity Survey – Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) published in October of 2010 states that 7.4 percent of 13 to 14 year olds, 12.2 percent of 15 to 16 year olds, and 15.4 percent of seventeen to eighteen year olds have experienced either Major Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia. Dysthymia is depression that is chronic but milder than major depression, usually having a childhood onset, and characterized by personality changes.

The Surgeon General’s report offers estimates that a tenth to an eighth of children and adolescents are depressed at some time, with about one-twentieth of children aged 9 to 17 receiving a diagnosis of major depression. For those who have major depression, if usually lasts 7 to 9 months, while for those who has dysthymic disorder it lasts about 4 years. A child may have a tendency towards depression if his or her parents have a history of depression.

Pharmacological treatments for childhood depression are now used hesitantly since there are concerns about giving these medications to children who are still undergoing brain development as well as about suicide (in fact, some antidepressants carry a warning and may not be prescribed to anyone under the age of 18.

Another treatment approach, dyadic play therapy, is currently being tested as an early intervention at the Early Emotional Development program at Washington University in St. Louis. In dyadic play therapy, the child’s primary caregiver is the one working with the child, but the caregiver wears an earpiece to receive coaching from a trained therapist aimed at helping the child regulate emotions and develop emotionally.

It was a report published by the director of this program, Joan L. Luby, M.D. and her colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in 2009 that was one of the earliest to direct attention to the possibility of diagnosable depression in preschoolers aged 3 to 6.


DANA Foundation (2011, June 2). Depression: Not just for adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 22, 2011, from­