In The People’s Clinic articles, we often discuss physical and mental health concerns that affect adults, but sometimes we as a community forget that some of these issues can affect children as well. Remember, children can also become stressed and depressed, and that their emotional and social functioning impaired as a result.

Did you know, that according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a government agency dedicated to the promotion of mental health for all individuals, approximately one in five children and adolescents will have a mental health disorder of some kind? What’s more, some of these individuals will attempt or commit suicide. Depression can be a devastating disease at any age, but it is especially devastating when it affects our children.

SAMHSA notes that suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens.

Most adolescents provide clues that they are considering or planning to commit suicide. In fact, according to one study, 83% of adolescents who committed suicide told others of their intentions in the week prior to their death. They may also give away their belongings. It is important that parents and friends take these threats seriously. Let’s take a closer look at childhood depression.

What are some signs that my child is depressed?

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) is a tool published by the American Psychiatric Association that assists clinicians in diagnosing mental illnesses. The DSM-IV lists the following criteria for depression in children and adolescents:

•Sad or irritable mood (often manifests in aggressive behavior) nearly every day

•Loss of interest in activities in which they used to find pleasure nearly every day

•Having trouble thinking or concentrating nearly every day

•Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt nearly every day

•Significant weight loss or weight gain (or the failure to make expected weight gains for a given age)

•Insomnia (not sleeping) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) nearly every day

•Psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or retardation (slowness) nearly every day

•Fatigue (loss of energy) nearly every day

•Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt nearly every day

•Recurring thoughts of death or thinking about or attempting suicide

At least five of these symptoms must be present during the same two-week period, and at least one symptom has to be depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in activities. According to SAMHSA, approximately 70% of children with depression will relapse by the time they reach adulthood.

What causes depression in children and adolescents?

There is no single answer as to what causes childhood depression; a lot of factors undoubtedly come into play. These factors may include family history or genetics, biological factors, cognitive factors, and social and environmental factors.

What treatment options are available?

If your child is exhibiting the above named symptoms, it is important to take him or her to a mental health professional as soon as possible. Together, you and your child’s doctor can decide what treatment option is best for your child. Pharmacotherapy (medication) may be an option, depending on the severity of your child’s condition. Other options that have been proven effective include psychotherapy, which could be at an individual level, a family level, or both. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches problem-solving techniques and cognitive restructuring (learning how to think in a less fatalistic manner), is frequently used. The medical team can help address actual and perceived stressors that may be triggering depression.

Depression is a disease that can affect our children, and it must be taken seriously. If your child exhibits warning signs for depression, take him or her to a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Please call toll-free 1-877-530-1824. Or, for more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity please visit our website:

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