Signs of Depression in Children and Teens


Depression can affect people of all ages, including children and teenagers. Although it is natural for young people to feel sad, depression is a debilitating condition that can impair all aspects of their lives.

In many teens, depression can go undetected as it is often dismissed as hormones or mood swings. However, like many other mental health disorders, depression can impact anyone, and the symptoms shouldn’t be ignored in young people.

Symptoms of Depression in Young People

The symptoms of depression in children and teens can differ but commonly include:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Consistent low mood
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities
  • Inability to concentrate at school
  • Deteriorating academic performance
  • Interacting less with family and friends

It can be challenging for parents to recognise the signs of depression as teens and children commonly experience mood swings. What may seem like a low ebb in mood may be something more serious, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms to catch it.

Upon attempting to differentiate normal mood swings from depression, parents should pay attention to three areas:[1]

  • Severity – How severe are the symptoms of depression? If they are notable and intense, this may indicate depression.
  • Duration – How long do these symptoms last? If they are present for more than two weeks, they may be symptomatic of a clinical condition.
  • Domains – Are these problems affecting multiple areas of your child’s life, such as school, home, and friendships? If so, it could indicate a mood disorder.

Causes of Depression in Young People

Several factors may increase the risk of depression in children and teens, such as:

  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Genetics
  • Divorce
  • Stress
  • Bereavement

Research has shown that children with depressed parents are three to four times more likely to develop depression, and adolescent girls are more likely to develop depression at a ratio of two to one.[2]

There may be no one cause for your child’s depression, as it may be a combination of factors. Irrespective of the cause, it is vital to make a note of your teens’ symptoms and take their condition seriously, as they are not always due to typical mood swings.

How Can You Help?

There are treatment options that can help your child. Usually, the first step is to have your teen or child evaluated by a mental health professional to confirm a diagnosis, as only a minority receive the proper treatment for their condition.[3] A physical exam may be conducted to determine if other medical conditions are responsible for the symptoms.

Several types of conditions may cause depression in teens, including:

  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) – This is a form of chronic depression. It is often milder than major depression but can persist for longer than a year. It can still take a toll on teens’ lives and can be treated through the employment of therapy and medication.
  • Major depression – The most severe form of depression, major depression is estimated to affect around 13% of teens aged between 12 and 17. It can lead to severe impairments at home and school but can be treated with therapy and medication.
  • Adjustment disorder – Adjustment disorder can stem from a significant life event. Events that can cause this disorder include divorce, death, or moving home. This is usually a short term disorder that lasts up to six months. If adjustment disorder lasts for longer, a different diagnosis may be appropriate.[4]

These conditions are treatable with therapy and medication, but there are also things you can do to help your child manage symptoms of depression. These include:

  • Cultivate a healthy support system – Make sure that your child knows they can come to you for support whenever they need it.
  • Eat a healthy diet – Studies have shown that eating excessive amounts of fast food is linked to depression, so eating a more nutritious diet may improve symptoms of depression.
  • Encourage your child to get regular exercise – Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are natural mood lifters that help alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Find new things to look forward to with your child – Ask them what they would like to do and plan activities that will bring them joy.
  • Debunk myths – There are many harmful myths about mental illness which could lead to your child feeling ashamed about their feelings. By talking to your child and explaining these myths, they may feel more comfortable when it comes to seeking help or talking about their condition.
  • Be open and talk about your concerns – Having a child with depression can be deeply worrying. Although you will want to do everything possible to help them, you must also seek help. Try talking to your partner, family, or friends about what you are going through and be open about your concerns.

It isn’t uncommon for a teen or child to refuse to meet with a counsellor or psychiatrist. They may feel that they don’t need treatment or don’t deserve it. In this case, you can meet with a mental health professional on your own and discuss strategies that may help at home.


Knowing or suspecting that your child is depressed can be incredibly concerning. However, there is hope. Depression is treatable through therapy and medication, and you can also support your child at home. You mustn’t ignore signs of depression in your child – although mood swings are normal, extended periods of low mood are not.

At Khiron Clinics C+A, attuned therapists can help you work through and process any unresolved trauma using specialist techniques and methods. Please contact us today.


[1] MacDonald, Amy. “Distinguishing Depression From Normal Adolescent Mood Swings – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health, 2010,

[2] Stein K, Fazel M. Depression in young people often goes undetected. Practitioner. 2015 May;259(1782):17-22, 2-3. PMID: 27254891.

[3] ​​Cheung, Amy H. et al. “Pediatric Depression: An Evidence-Based Update On Treatment Interventions”. Current Psychiatry Reports, vol 15, no. 8, 2013. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s11920-013-0381-4. Accessed 24 Nov 2021.

[4] Patra, Bichitra Nanda, and Siddharth Sarkar. “Adjustment Disorder: Current Diagnostic Status”. Indian Journal Of Psychological Medicine, vol 35, no. 1, 2013, pp. 4-9. SAGE Publications, doi:10.4103/0253-7176.112193. Accessed 24 Nov 2021.

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