The Alarming Consequences of Untreated Depression in Children

The top reasons to get your depressed child treatment

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If you are a parent of a child with depression, you may wonder what the likely consequences of depression are and if treatment is necessary. The reality is that depression has the potential for very serious consequences in young people, especially when left untreated.

Every Child Is Different

It is important to know that, though all children with depression suffer the painful emotional experience of the condition, not all children with depression will experience all of the other potential negative consequences.

There is no sure way to determine which children will go on to experience them and which will not. As such, it is important to identify and treat any depression symptoms in children as soon as possible.

The Consequences of Depression?

Consequences of depression range from mild to severe and may appear years after a depressive episode, especially when left untreated.

  • Relationship Problems: Children with depression may begin to withdraw from friends or family. They may appear unfriendly to others or irritate them. Unfortunately, this can lead to the loss of relationships, difficulty forming and keeping new relationships and the potential for getting involved in negative or abusive future relationships.
  • Recurrent Depression: Children who have had a depressive episode, especially those with untreated depression, are more likely to experience recurrent depressive episodes or to develop an additional mental illness.
  • Risk-Taking and Reckless Behavior: Children who are depressed may engage in behaviors that they would otherwise avoid because they are dangerous. This can include reckless driving, vandalism, breaking the rules at school or otherwise getting in trouble with the law.
  • Substance Abuse: For some, substance use may be a way of self-medicating to feel better or "normal." Substance abuse due to childhood depression typically begins in adolescence but may start as early as age 10.
  • Academic Decline and Failure: A common symptom of childhood depression is academic decline. When this is present and the child's depression remains untreated, the problem is likely to get worse and to be more difficult to recover from.
  • Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors*: The most serious risk of depression is suicide. Feelings of hopelessness, isolation and worthless may lead to thoughts of suicide.

How to Help a Depressed Child

All of these effects are scary and reading about them collectively might even be overwhelming for parents of a depressed child. But remember that not every child will experience the above reactions to depressions and getting your child help as soon as possible can reduce her risk. There are many treatment options that are proven safe and effective for reducing and eliminating depression in children.

Talk with your child's pediatrician or other mental health provider about the best treatment option for your child. If you are unsure if your child is depressed but have concerns, it is best to consult with his pediatrician.

It can be difficult to know exactly what your child is thinking or feeling, but it is always better to be safe when it comes to the well-being of your child.

*If your child or someone else you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).


David C. R. Kerr, Ph.D., Lee D. Owen, B.S., Katherine C. Pears, Ph.D., and Deborah M. Capaldi, Ph.D. "Prevalence of Suicidal Ideation Among Boys and Men Assessed Annually from Ages 9 to 29 Years." Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. August 2008 38(4): 390-401.

Daniel N. Klein, Ph.D., Stewart A. Shankman, Ph.D, Suzanne Rose, M.A. "Dysthymic Disorder and Double Depression: Prediction of 10-Year Course Trajectories and Outcomes." Journal of Research Psychiatry April 2008 42(5): 408-415.

Depression Resource Center. FAQs on Child and Adolescent Depression. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Accessed: 09/23/2010. 

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. April 4 2009 123(4):e716-e735.

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