Childhood depression: know the signs

Childhood depression: know the signs

Stress, work, family and financial commitments—adulthood comes with its fair share of responsibility. It’s easy to forget that kids and teens experience stress and anxiety too, especially when it comes to starting a new school year, getting good marks, dealing with peer pressure and bullying, adapting to a blended family, winning approval from parents and friends, and more.

While navigating these highs and lows are a part of life, persistent lows, especially over the medium to long term, may lead to more serious problems such as depression.

Statistically speaking, 5% of Canadian boys and 12% of Canadian girls age 12 to 19 will experience an episode of major depression during this period.

And because there are so many different causes of depression, we are all vulnerable to it.


Psychiatrists define depression as “a long period during which a person is extremely sad, to the point of feeling useless, desperate, and powerless.”

Depression is particularly hard to spot and diagnose in children and teens because they are less likely to discuss their feelings and moods.

This makes them different from adults, who are more likely to confide in others and seek help.

In addition to hormonal changes, a variety of factors can lead to depression in children and teens, including traumatic events, a lack of family support, low self-esteem, anxiety, and social phobias.

When to seek help

While there’s likely no cause for alarm if a child presents just one of these symptoms, a combination of symptoms that persist over time may be cause for concern.

It’s important not to confuse a case of the blues with depression. However, with teens, parents tend to dismiss symptoms of depression as mood swings.

According to Harold S. Koplewicz, a psychiatrist and founding president of the Child Mind Institute, “hoping it is a phase, hoping the child will grow out of it, is a very big mistake. All these disorders cause distress and dysfunction. It makes people feel hopeless. And hopelessness is what makes people want to hurt themselves. It isn’t depression, it’s hopelessness.”

If you think your child or teen may be suffering from depression, the following tips might help:

  • Make an appointment with your family doctor, if possible
  • Try not to ask too many questions: show openness and understanding
  • Encourage your child to be active
  • Encourage your child to get out of the house
  • Play an active role in your child’s treatment

Treatment types

Psychotherapy is by far the best treatment option for children and teens struggling with minor depression.

Depending on the severity of your child’s case, your healthcare professional may recommend medication as well. Therapies vary according to the child’s age and may include play therapy, traditional therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, group therapy, etc.

Additional resources

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers a wealth of resources for college and university students living with a mental illness.