Heartland Human Services

Depression and Children


ByKayla Schumacher, BS, Psychotherapist

Depression comes in all different shapes and sizes, and so do its survivors. Commonly, depression is thought to be a condition for adults. It’s not often a word linked to children. So, what does depression in children look like? Actually, depression in children and adolescents (ages 3-18) can present very differently than it does in adults.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) lists the symptoms below as the signs of depression in children:

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Decreased interest in activity; 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
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illness, such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior


The symptoms mentioned above often represent a change from a child’s previous behavior(s). Any sudden changes or the presentation of the above symptoms warrant a parent, teacher, or loved one seeking the child help.

Children, especially younger children, often struggle with identifying and expressing their emotions. As a result, distress and/or depression often comes out in behavioral manifestations, such as anger outbursts, deteriorating grades, and/or isolating behaviors. Additionally, physical complaints, such as the headaches and stomachaches mentioned by the AACAP, are quite common in children experiencing depression. Son and Kirchner (2000) noted children younger than school age display different symptoms than ones mentioned above. In infants and toddlers, “apathy, withdrawal from caregivers, delay or regression of developmental milestones and failure to thrive that has no organic cause” (Son & Kirchner, 2000) can all be signs of depression.

What should you do if you think a child is experiencing depression?

First, consider and monitor how long the symptoms persist (Tartakovsky, 2013). It is important to discern if the child is simply having a bad day/week. Persistent presentation of the above symptoms indicates a more serious problem than a bad day. However, if a child expresses the desire to harm/kill themselves or others, seek emergency attention.
If the symptoms remain stable, make an appointment for the child with his/her primary care provider. Tartakovsky (2013) shares there are various medical conditions which can mimic depression and it is important to rule out medical conditions first. If there is no indication of an underlying medical condition, schedule an assessment with a mental health professional. Evaluation and effective treatment are key to treating depression. Treatment may include talk and/or play therapy, with family therapy; and, possibly, psychotropic medication depending on the severity of the depression.

Childhood depression can be hard to identify and difficult to treat. If you suspect a loved one is experiencing depression, Heartland Human Services can help. Assessments, individual and family therapy, and linkage to other professionals will be provided to ensure the best treatment for the child. If a child, adolescent, or adult is in crisis, please call the 24/7 Crisis line at 217-342-5504.




Depression in Children and Teens. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2013, from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Depressed-Child-004.aspx

Son, S. E., & Kirchner, J. T. (2000). Depression in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/1115/p2297.html

Tartakovsky, M. (2013). What Parents Need to Know about Childhood Depression | World of Psychology. Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/09/07/what-parents-need-to-know-about-childhood-depression/

If you or a loved one are experiencing  any symptoms of depression, contact Heartland Human Services at 217-347-7179