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All About Depression and Self Esteem in Children

How a Child Thinks and Feels About Himself May Play a Role in Depression

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Updated February 11, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When it comes to your child, depression and self-esteem may sometimes be issues of concern.

The Relationship Between Depression and Self-Esteem

While there are many different theories for why children experience depression, one school of thought suggests that the answer lies within a person. Self-esteem, or how a person feels about herself, is thought to play an important role in depression. In fact, low self-esteem and depression share similarities, like self-consciousness and risk-taking behaviors.

Additionally, symptoms of depression in children may include:

In some children, these symptoms may lead to negative behavior and subsequently confirm a child's negative beliefs, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Self-Relevant Risk Factors for Depression

It is generally believed that various biological, psychological, and environmental factors combine to put a child at risk for depression. Negative life events and stress are important environmental factors that may precede a depressive episode in some children prone to depression.

After a negative life event, like the loss of a loved one or a significant disappointment, many children will bounce back without cause for concern. Other children may have temporary mild depressive symptoms, and some may unfortunately experience a clinically significant depressive episode.

For some children, certain self-relevant factors may put them at a higher risk for developing depression after experiencing a negative event:

It is important to remember that many factors likely contribute to the cause of depression in children. It is clear, though, that the development of a positive sense of self and self-esteem are an essential part of a child's well-being, and should be fostered by families through love, acceptance, empowerment, and support.

Despite a loving and stable environment, children may still struggle with low self-esteem and/or depression. It is important that parents not blame themselves, but instead seek professional advice for treatment. Depression in children is a serious medical condition that always requires treatment.

Sources:

Beck, A.T. (1983). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New Perspective. In. P.J. Clayton & J.E. Barrett (Eds.), Treatment of Depression: Old Controversies and New Approaches. New York: Raven Press: 265-290.

Blatt, S.J. D'Affittt, J.P., & Quinlan, D.M. (1976). Experiences of Depression in Normal Young Adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology; 85: 383-389.

Butler, Andrew C., Hokanson, Jack E., Flynn, Heather A. A Comparison of Self-Esteem Lability and Low Trait Self-Esteem as Vulnerability Factors for Depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Jan, 1994; 66(1): 166-17.

Facts for Families: The Depressed Child. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Accessed: January 16, 2011. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_depressed_child

Jonathon D. Brown. The Self. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1998

Keith Oatley and Winifred Bolton. A Social-Cognitive Theory of Depression in Reaction to Life Events. Psychological Review. July 1985. 92(3)

Paul A. Frewen, M.A., David J.A. Dozois, PhD. Self-Worth Appraisal of Life Events ad Beck's Congruency Model of Depression Vulnerability. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly. 20(2); 2006: 231-240.

Ulrich Orth, Richard W. Robins, Brent W. Roberts. Low Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Depression in Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2008; 95(3): 695-708.

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