Depression - medical information

Depression is a serious mental health problem that affects people of all ages, including children.

Depression affects as many as one in every thirty-three children and one in eight adolescents.

Causes of depression

  • No one thing causes depression.
  • Children who develop depression may have a family history of the illness.
  • Family history, stressful life events such as losing a parent, divorce, or discrimination and other physical or psychological problems are all factors that contribute to the onset of depression.

Factors which can increase the risk of depression for children and adolescents:

  • Stress, cigarette smoking, a loss of a parent or someone they love, breakup of a romantic relationship, attentional conduct or learning disorders, abuse or neglect and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.

Symptoms of depression
There are many symptoms related to depression which can make it difficult to spot. Common depression symptoms in children include:

  • simply appearing unhappy much of the time
  • headaches, stomach aches, tiredness and other vague physical complaints which appear to have no obvious cause
  • spending a lot of time in bed, but sleeping badly and waking early in the morning
  • doing badly at school
  • major changes in weight
  • being unusually irritable, sulky or becoming quiet and introverted
  • losing interest in favourite hobbies
  • having poor self-esteem or recurrent feelings of worthlessness
  • contemplating suicide

It is not always easy to spot depression in children as they can be less capable of expressing their feelings and can react to their moods in a more physical way.

Treatments for depression

  • With support from friends, family and school many young people have reported that they start to feel better.
  • For more persistent depression a range of treatments are available which include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and family therapy or interpersonal therapy. These are available through the local Child and Adolescent Health Services (CAMHs).
  • With very severe and persistent depression, medication may be used.

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