Depression affects approximately 5% of adolescents. Major depression often begins between the ages of 15 and 30, but it can appear in children. In childhood, boys and girls appear to be at equal risk for depression; but during adolescence, girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression.

Because normal behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child is just going through a temporary phase or is suffering from depression. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides a list of symptoms and signs to help identify when a child is suffering from depression.

Symptoms of Depression Common to Children, Adolescents, and Adults

  • Persistent sad or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite or body weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Signs of Depression That May Be Present in Children and Adolescents

  • Frequent vague, nonspecific physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or tiredness
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying
  • Being bored
  • Lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Social isolation, poor communication
  • Fear of death
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Reckless behavior
  • Difficulty with relationships

Note : Not every depressed child will experience every symptom—some will experience a few symptoms, some many; and the severity of symptoms will vary from child to child. Depression can be very serious, but it is treatable. If your child is showing any of these signs and symptoms, talk with your child's pediatrician.