When Your Child is Depressed

Written by Dr. Sidney Langston  

"Sometimes I feel everybody would be better off if I were dead," sobs twelve year old Jane. "I'm so dumb I might as well not be alive."

An eight year old, physically handicapped boy is sure nobody likes him because he feels he is so ugly. Why else would the other children make fun of him all the time?

Amy, an attractive, popular, 15-year-old changed markedly over a period of time. She lost interest in her friends, isolated herself from her family and let her studies go. Her family was shocked when she attempted suicide.

These children have one thing in common. They are seriously depressed. Recent studies reveal that childhood depression is much more common than previously supposed. One study showed that as many as one in five children and adolescents may suffer from depression at some time.

Signs of Depression

Depressed children may be sad and unhappy, socially withdrawn with little interest in normal activities, frequently ill or unusually aggressive. They may feel rejected and at the same time reject the love and comfort offered to them. They may experience sleep disturbances or changes in appetite. Unlike adults, depressed children do not dread the future, and they respond quickly to external distractions.

Indirect indications of depression in children include extreme anxiety, nail-biting, pulling out hair or eyelashes, muscle tics, irritability, snappiness, temper tantrums, moodiness, withdrawal, self mutilation, excessive negativity, and increased and/or unusual disobedience and destructive behavior. Childhood depression may also manifest itself in dreams with themes of despair, frustration and hopelessness.

Causes of Depression

Causes of depression can include: loss of a parent or sibling through death or divorce, loss of friends due to moves or broken relationships, loss of mobility or function due to accident or injury. Lack of friends or excessive teasing by peers can lead to depression. Seemingly unsolvable conflicts with parents or teachers or intense dissatisfaction with one's looks can trigger depression. Depression may also be caused by a chemical imbalance in the body.

Help for Depression

Parents and teachers can help children work through their depression in the following ways.

  • Attempt to see the problem from the child's perspective. Never minimize the problem because that cuts you off from the child.In cases of loss, accept depression as part of the normal grieving process.
  • Help the child accept the reality of losses by being open and honest. If Daddy isn't coming home, don't pretend that he is.
  • Help the child to verbalize his thoughts and feelings.
  • Anger and excessive or inappropriate discipline create fear and insecurity and could prolong the depression.
  • Try to build realistic hope. Encourage them to believe that they will feel better in time.
  • Be available. Be ready to listen, encourage, hug and touch.
  • Make sure the child is getting adequate rest, a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Get Help If Necessary

If these interventions fail to resolve the child's depression, get professional help without delay. Specific treatments such as psychotherapy, counseling and antidepressant medication are effective in treating even severe cases of childhood depression. Adult patterns of depression proneness are established early in life. A lifetime of sadness can be prevented if early and effective intervention is sought.


Hart, Archibald D., Ph.D. (1987). Counseling the depressed. Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing.

Copyright 1992, El Rophe Center, Inc.