How to Cope if Your Child's Depression Is Worsening

Persistence and communication play key roles

Depressed adolescent boy
Getty Images/Michael Hall

When your child has worsening depression symptoms, it can be frustrating and alarming. Whether or not your child's symptoms are new or she has been struggling for a while, a few tips can help when your child needs it most.

Don't Ignore or Dismiss Symptoms

While it is possible that your child is having a temporary reaction to negative life stress, you will want to be sure that her symptoms are gone within a couple of weeks.

The formal diagnosis of major depression requires that symptoms be present for at least two weeks. If your child's symptoms are getting increasingly worse or she has suicidal thoughts, however, seek urgent medical care -- do not wait two weeks.

Ensure that your child is evaluated, diagnosed and treated by a professional. This is the best way to be sure that your child will get better. While depression symptoms can sometimes seem obvious to a conscientious parent, always make sure that your child sees a professional for an evaluation and proper treatment. Do not attempt to treat your child by yourself -- although your love and support is an important part of her recovery.

Be Aware That Improvement Takes Time

It can sometimes take many weeks to see the maximum benefit of treatment in your child. However, while improvement is often a gradual process, a child's symptoms should improve -- not worsen -- with treatment.

It can be tempting to let your child skip a treatment session or allow her to not take her medication for one day for various reasons. However, it is important that your child be treated consistently as recommended by her treatment professional. Symptoms can return or worsen very quickly in the absence of treatment.

If your child has difficult-to-treat depression and her symptoms continue to worsen, be sure to watch out for signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior. In this case, emergency help should be sought for your child -- do not wait for her next appointment.

Communicate With Your Child and Her Provider

Parents are often worried about upsetting their child by talking about depression, but being open and honest about it will keep her feeling supported and like she does not have to hide. Additionally, being in close contact with your child's provider -- within the boundaries of confidentiality -- is important. Providers rely heavily on a parent's report of a child's behavior and daily life to get a better understanding of her progress.

If several treatment options have not worked for your child, it is easy to get frustrated with treatments in general or with your child's provider. Avoid the temptation to give up on treatment, as studies have shown that persistence is key in finding the right treatment.

Many children who have treatment-resistant depression require multiple attempts or a combination treatment approach.

It is not uncommon for a child to be resistant about attending therapy or taking medication initially. However, if you are concerned that things are not working out with your child's current provider, find a trusted recommendation for a second opinion, consultation, or new provider.

Wrapping Up

Untreated depression in children has serious consequences, such as academic decline, low self-esteem, and increased risk for suicide. Anytime you think your child's symptoms are returning or getting worse, seek treatment. As mentioned before, for difficult-to-treat depression, several treatment attempts make be needed before you see an improvement in your child.


David Brent, MD, Graham Emslie, MD, Greg Clark, PhD, et al. The Treatment of Adolescents With SSRI-Resistant Depression (TORDIA): A Comparison of Switch to Venlafaxine or to Another SSRI, With or Without Additional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Journal of the American Medical Association. February 27, 2008.

Depression and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Surgeon General's Health Report. Accessed: May 06, 2011.

What are the Different Forms of Depression? National Institutes of Mental Health. Accessed: May 06, 2011.

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