Childhood and Adolescent Depression

Depression is the inability  to construct a future. Rollo May

Depression is the inability
to construct a future.
Rollo May

With the recent death of Robin Williams, there has been quite a bit of media attention on depression and other mental health disorders.  It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 adults in the United States are going through a depressive cycle at any given time; research indicates that one out of every 33 children may be depressed as well.  The number of teens that have depression is even higher than the adult population ~ 1 out of 9.  What most adults do not recognize is that depression in children and teens may look different than adult depression. It is extremely important that adults recognize the symptoms of depression so children can receive the treatment they need.

Just like adults, depression is much more than the occasional feelings of sadness that everyone has from time to time. A physician or mental health therapist will ask if symptoms have been occurring for more than two weeks. A parent or other adults may notice the child or teen experiencing depression is finding it extremely difficult to face even the slightest bump in normal day-to-day activities.

Surprisingly, children and adolescents who are depressed may have an increase in irritability, anger, or hostility which may cause trouble at home or at school. It is often rare for adults to recognize this behavior as depression. In addition, depressed children and teens may show the following symptoms:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Persistent boredom; low energy
  • Social isolation, poor communication
  • Low self esteem and guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self destructive behavior


In a school setting, children and teens with depression may show a decline in school grades because they do not complete work, may fail to engage in classroom discussions, struggle to understand directions, or communicate with classmates and teachers.  There may be frequent absences from school  or trips to the school’s nurse on a regular basis.  In addition, the child may snap at other students, start fights, or engage in vandalism. One common observation for teens is that they may struggle to work effectively in the morning, but may do better in late afternoon classes.  Finally, staff may notice that the child or adolescent may choose topics such as depression, suicide, or self-injury to write about in health class or as the subject for creative writing or art.

The symptoms of depression may also be confused with the disorder of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). When the National Institute of Mental Health reviewed the cases of 600 children who had been diagnosed with ADHD, only 30% actually had the disorder.  It is important to share all symptoms with health care personnel, especially those that do not correlate to ADHD.  Research also indicates that children and teens with learning disorders and anxiety disorders are also at a higher risk for depression. Researchers are not quite sure why certain youth have higher rates of depression, but they do know that depression involves neurological as well as hereditary and environmental components.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for depressed children. Depression is a real illness that requires professional help. Comprehensive treatment often includes both individual and family therapy as well as the use of antidepressant medication. For help, parents should ask their physician to refer them to a qualified mental health professional who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.

Resources for Families

Kitsap Mental Health:

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

NAMI of Kitsap County:

NAMI Kitsap meets the first Thursday of each month (except July and August) for an Education Meeting at 7:00 p.m. in The Doctors Clinic (3rd Floor) – 2011 Myhre Road, Cavalon Place in Silverdale (between Ridgetop and Bucklin Hill). It is comprised of family members, friends and people affected by mental illness. The goals include:  Providing education and support; creating awareness of issues related to mental illness; working to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and advocating for changes to improve services.

For information call Myra at (360) 377-2910 or Chris at (360) 415-5800

NAMI Family Support Group Meeting/Bainbridge Island

Meets the second Monday of each month (7:00 – 8:30 p.m.) at the Home Street Bank building – 921 Hildebrand Land, Bainbridge Island.

For information call Jeanette Rerecich (360) 697-5531.

NAMI Family-To-Family Education Program

NAMI of Kitsap County offers this program usually annually. This 12-week series of classes is structured to help family members understand and support their relatives affected by Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder (manic depression), Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder, Panic Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, while maintaining their own well being. This course is taught by a team of trained volunteer family members who know what it’s like to have a loved one with a serious mental illness in the family.  NOTE: There is no cost to participate in the NAMI Family-To-Family Education Program. Over 35,000 family members in the U.S. and Canada have completed this course.  For information call Jeannette Rerecich (360) 697-5531.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

Kids Health:

National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health:

PBS: Checklist for Childhood Depression: