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Depression in Children
is a medical condition that causes your child to feel sad or hopeless. These feelings do not go away. Depression may cause your child to lose interest in things he or she used to enjoy. These feelings may interfere with his or her daily life. He or she may also be angry, do poorly in school, become isolated, or have pain.
Common symptoms include the following:
- Appetite changes, or weight gain or loss
- Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Feeling restless, irritable, or withdrawn
- Feeling worthless, hopeless, discouraged, or guilty
- Trouble concentrating, remembering things, doing daily tasks, or making decisions
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- Your child has done something on purpose to hurt himself or herself.
- Your child tries to commit suicide.
- Your child says he or she wants to commit suicide.
Call your child's therapist or doctor if:
- Your child's depression gets worse.
- You do not think your child's depression medicine is helping.
- You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
The following resources are available at any time, if needed:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
- Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
- For a list of international numbers: https://save.org/find-help/international-resources/
Your child's healthcare provider will help you and your child develop a plan for his or her treatment. The provider will ask your child to make plans for coping at home, school, and around friends. The plan may include an emergency contact in case he or she feels like hurting himself or herself, or others. It may also include regular exercise, good nutrition, and any of the following:
- Antidepressant medicine may be given, depending on your child's age. Your child may need to take this medicine for several weeks before he or she begins to feel better. Tell his or her healthcare provider about any problems your child has with his or her medicine. The kind or amount of medicine may have to be changed. Some medicines used to treat depression may increase the risk for suicide.
- Therapy can help your child work through situations that may be causing the depression or making it worse. This may be done alone or in a group. It may also be done with family members. Therapy and antidepressant medicines are often used together to treat depression or prevent it from coming back later. Healthcare providers can help your child find the kinds of medicine and therapy that work best for him or her.
How to help and support your child:
- Listen to your child when he or she wants to talk. Your child's depression may be related to something stressful in his or her life. Examples include loss of an important family member, or divorce of his or her parents. Your child may be bullied at school or have trouble making friends. Do not dismiss your child's problem or feelings. You may not think the situation is serious, but it is to your child.
- Watch your child carefully for any behavior changes. Talk to your child's healthcare provider if you have concerns or questions about his or her behavior. Children with depression have an increased risk for suicide.
- Encourage healthy eating habits. Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, and cooked beans. Limit the amount of sugar and caffeine your child has.
- Help your child create a sleep schedule. Have your child go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. Stick to a sleep schedule so he or she gets enough sleep. Your child may sleep better if his or her room is quiet and dark.
- Help your child get 1 hour of physical activity every day. Encourage your child to play sports or be active every day. Physical activity can reduce symptoms of depression. Try offering to take your child somewhere he or she enjoys. This may help him or her be more willing to be active.
Follow up with your child's therapist or doctor as directed:
Your child's therapist will monitor your child's medicine if he or she takes antidepressants. He or she will ask your child questions to find out if the medicine is helping. Tell the therapist about any problems your child has with the medicine. The kind or amount of medicine may need to be changed. If your child cannot come to an appointment, reschedule as soon as possible. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Learn more about Depression in Children (Ambulatory Care)
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