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Occasional ups and downs are part of everyday life, and are a big part of growing up and emotional development. However, depression is more than just feeling sad. When a child feels a deep sadness, hopelessness or loses interest in things they used to enjoy, it may be necessary to consider seeking professional help for depression. Acknowledging depression and seeking help is especially important for young people, as untreated depression can lead to thoughts or actions of suicide, which is the second leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 10-24.

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.2% of children aged 3-17 – about 1.9 million – have a diagnosis of depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Children, teens and young adults experiencing depression may show a range of symptoms, including:

  • Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Lack of energy or sleeping excessively
  • Changing their eating patterns, leading to significant weight loss or gain
  • Having trouble concentrating on tasks
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Talking about wanting to die by suicide

Treatment for Depression

It is important to know that depression is treatable, and early detection is key. The first step is to recognize the signs of depression and seek guidance from your child’s healthcare provider, pediatric psychologist, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or other resource. This step will lead to a formal evaluation for depression, which can determine if the symptoms are caused by depression or by another condition.

Once a diagnosis is determined, your child’s provider will work with you and your child to determine a treatment plan. This may include therapy as an individual or as a family, and may also include medication. Your provider may also recommend additional health measures, such as eating a healthy diet, encouraging regular bedtimes, and incorporating physical activity regularly into the day.

Preventing Depression

Depression can happen to anyone, so it’s important to be mindful of symptoms, and also to be mindful of our own mental wellness. In addition to sticking to a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, regular physical activity and good sleep, it’s important to make sure you take time to connect with other people and ask them how they are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask, and to listen. Having an open conversation with someone may give them the encouragement they need to share thoughts or feelings that may otherwise lead to depression.