What Many People Don’t Know About Depression in Kids and Teens

Can you spot the warning signs of depression in kids and teens? It often looks very different than in adults. Which of the following faces below might be feeling blue? Click on a face to find out!

Angry FaceSick FaceTired FaceSad FaceBored FaceAddicted FaceUnmotivated FaceFearful FaceDistracted FaceGrouchy FaceAshamed FaceDefiant FaceLonely FaceWithdrawn FaceHungry Face

 

Warning Signs of Depression in Kids and Teens

 

  • Sadness and hopelessness

Most people think of sadness when they think of depression. Often, people who are depressed also struggle with a sense of hopelessness toward life. Although sadness is one of the most common symptoms of depression in adults, surprisingly this is usually not the most prominent symptom of depression in kids and teens.

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  • Anger, defiance, irritability

Anger is one of the most common symptoms of depression in kids and teens. Youth who are depressed often appear angry and irritable, and it’s easy for adults to misread these cues and get into a pattern of argument and punishment with depressed children and teenagers. One teenager confided that she had been feeling suicidal but did not know how to share it with anyone. Instead, she just ended up fighting a lot with her parents. Fortunately, a friend eventually noticed something was wrong. The teen’s parents took a completely different approach once they realized what their daughter was really going through.

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  • Physical symptoms: feeling “sick,” sleep disturbances, changes in appetite

Depression in kids and teens often shows up as physical symptoms. When young people feel bad emotionally, they often describe it as feeling bad in their bodies. Children and adolescents may complain of mysterious headaches and stomachaches. They may have a hard time falling asleep at night, or they may have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. They may feel tired all the time. Depression can also cause changes in appetite, causing noticeable weight gain or weight loss.

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  • Withdrawal, loneliness, boredom, lack of motivation, lack of focus, addiction

Many kids and teens describe their experience of depression as feeling “blah.” Depression can hamper a child or teen’s ability to focus, and it can also cause a lack of motivation. Kids and teens may find it hard to complete homework and chores.  They also may withdraw into their rooms, isolate themselves, or numb out through activities such as video games, TV, or substance use. Parents sometimes mistake these symptoms of depression as laziness, irresponsibility, or defiance of family rules.

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  • Shame and fearfulness

Sometimes kids and teens who are struggling with depression can appear very sensitive to criticism and failure. Depressed youth often wrestle with feelings of worthlessness, which can make them fearful of not meeting their own perfectionist standards. Although anxiety itself is not a symptom of depression, depression and anxiety frequently go hand in hand.

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What Can You Do?

The truth is that all of the feelings in the graphic above can be potential symptoms of depression in kids and teens. If you think a child or teen might be depressed, talk to them about their feelings and get professional help.

 

For More Information

  • NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • NIMH – National Institute of Mental Health
  • Right-click to download the infographic here: “Many Faces of Depression
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