Why Feeling Worthless May Be a Sign of Depression in Children

How parents can determine if this emotion signals a mental health problem

mother consoling upset son
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Parents and caregivers should take note when children say they feel worthless, as this feeling is a common and painful symptom of depression. Children who suffer from worthlessness typically think they are weak, inadequate or flawed. Learn the reasons young people sometimes feel worthless and how to proceed if the feeling persists for days, weeks or longer. 

Why Does a Child Feel Worthless?

No child is worthless, but some may experience temporary feelings of worthlessness at times, especially after a disappointment.

This is a normal reaction if these feelings resolve within a few days.

However, children with depressive disorders may feel worthless frequently or for long periods of time, especially following a negative event.

Feelings of worthlessness are thought to foster other negative feelings, such as hopelessness, helplessness, sadness and guilt. Worthlessness is a painful emotion and can cause a child to withdraw and keep to himself.

A child who feels worthless, for example, may believe that he is inherently bad and that everything he does is wrong. He may not put any effort into his school work, engage in unstable relationships or not even try to connect with others because he believes that his efforts will fail or cause additional problems.

The Link Between Worthlessness and Depression

Not all children with depression will feel worthless, and not everyone who feels worthless will experience depression.

However, feelings of worthlessness or other symptoms of depression for more than a week may require treatment from your child's pediatrician or mental health provider.

If you are concerned about any of your child's feelings or behaviors, it is best to talk to a medical or mental health professional for advice.

After all, when it comes to your child, you want to ensure that he is happy and healthy. Moreover, just because you're the child's parent doesn't mean that you're equipped to address the fallout of a serious medical condition such as depression. Don't take matters into your own hands. Rely on an impartial and experienced mental health professional to treat your child's symptoms.


Depression and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. http://mentalhealth.about.com/library/sg/chapter3/blsec5.htm

S.B. Williams, E.A. O'Connor, Eder, M. Whitlock, E.P. "Screening for Child and Adolescent Depression in Primary Care Settings: A Systematic Evidence Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force." Pediatrics 4 Apr 09 123(4):e716-e735.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression? The National Institute on Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/what-are-the-signs-and-symptoms-of-depression.shtml

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