How to Tell if Your Child Shows Symptoms of Depression

Loss of Energy and Withdrawal May Signal a Problem

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If you think that your child is depressed, you have probably already researched child depression symptoms but may be confused by what you've found. You may wonder how depression symptoms would appear in a child as opposed to an adult, for instance. Knowing what to look for can help you spot the signs of this condition.


Children may become sad about many things -- lost relationships, school work, failures, missing out on something, loss of a friend, pet or loved one or moving.

Try to identify what your child is sad about and provide support. If her symptoms improve or disappear in a few weeks, they are probably not related to depression.

Depressed children may have a general sense of sadness about their life and their future, or they may not be able to identify what they are sad about. They may cry a lot or tear up frequently for no obvious reason.

Withdrawal from Friends and Family

Most children will change friends at some point and spend varying amounts of time with their parents. Also, children going through puberty naturally pull away from their families and begin to identify more with their peers. This is an important developmental step that should not be confused with withdrawal.

Children who are depressed may dramatically pull away from friends, family and others who they were once close to. They tend to keep to themselves and avoid interactions all together.

They may stop participating in class, social and extracurricular activities.

Losing Interest in Activities They Once Enjoyed

Your child may naturally lose interest in things he once loved, like a favorite toy or TV show, or suddenly declare he no longer wants to play with Legos. This is different from a child with depression.

A depressed child has a hard time finding joy or excitement in anything. He may be indifferent about many things and not seem to care what he does at all. It may seem like he is just going through the motions of life.

Feeling Misunderstood

Every child will feel misunderstood at some point in time. A depressed child may feel that there is no one who can understand her feelings or that it is pointless to even try to talk about them. She may fear trying new things, speaking her mind or sharing ideas for fear that she will be rejected, misinterpreted or ridiculed.

Academic Decline

Again, children may have academic highs and lows over time. Remember that during times of transition to middle school or high school, course work may become more challenging.

A depressed child may have a significant decline in grades, because he is not doing his work or participating in class, missing school or not paying attention. This may be more apparent in a child who had been a high academic achiever in the past.

Lack of Energy

Everyone gets tired, especially after busy days, hard work, late nights, illnesses and exercise, but a depressed child may seem to always lack energy and motivation. Even after an appropriate amount of sleep, a depressed child may complain of being tired, move slowly or take a disproportionate amount of time to complete a task.

Other symptoms of childhood depression include feelings of guilt; difficulty focusing and making decisions; extreme shyness; clinging to a parent; feeling hopeless or worthless; unexplained physical complaints; sleeping problems; appetite changes; and thoughts or actions of self-harm.

If you think that your child may be depressed, consult with your pediatrician, who can evaluate his symptoms, rule out an underlying medical illness and recommend appropriate treatment.

It can be difficult to know whether your child is depressed or having a mild reaction to a negative event, but you are not alone. Many parents struggle with understanding what their child is thinking and feeling. Fortunately, there are many ways to find support and treatment.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

Chris Hayward (Ed.) Gender Differences at Puberty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2003.

Robert L. Spitzer, M.D, Michael B. First, M.D., Miriam Gibbon, M.S.W., Janet B.W. Williams, D.S.W (Eds.) Treatment Companion to the DSM-IV-TR Casebook. Washington, DC, London, England. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.; 2004.

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