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How Common Is Depression in Children?

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Updated October 17, 2012

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

As a concerned parent, you may be wondering how common depression is in children. The reality is that even young children can and do become depressed. Despite a long debate as to whether or not children have the developmental maturity to experience depression, childhood depression is indeed a well-recognized disorder among researchers and clinicians.

Approximately 3% to 8% of all children and adolescents have a depressive disorder, and 20% of young people show some depressive symptoms that do not meet the full criteria for a depression diagnosis.

How Early Can Depression Start?

According to Dr. Joan L. Luby, whose research was published in Current Trends in Psychological Science in 2010, children as young as 3 may exhibit clear signs of depression, such as inability to experience pleasure from play, sadness, or irritability.

The rates of all types of depression increase with age until adulthood. Approximately twice as many girls will experience depression as boys by age 15. Prior to puberty, boys have a higher rate of depression than girls.

Approximately 60% of children with major depressive disorder will also meet the criteria for an additional mental health illness.

Some research shows that the earlier the depression begins, the more likely that it is to recur throughout a lifetime and interfere with daily functioning. This really highlights the importance of early identification and treatment of childhood depression.

What to Watch For

As mentioned, children as young as 3 may show signs of depression, so watch for marked sadness, irritability, or inability to experience pleasure from activities like play.

Additional symptoms of depression in children and adolescents may include:

What To Do

If you think your child is depressed, seek advice from her pediatrician or a mental health professional. A professional can test, accurately diagnose your child, and recommend appropriate treatment. Treatment for depression gives your child the best chance for recovery.

Remember that children go through rapid changes as they develop, which may impact their mood. It is always best to have a professional investigate any symptoms in your child that concern you.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

Cecilia Essau (Ed.) "Treatment for Adolescent Depression: Theory and Practice." Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2009

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 and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Accessed: September 01, 2010. http://mentalhealth.about.com/library/sg/chapter3/blsec5.htm

Joan L. Luby. "Preschool Depression: The Importance of Identification of Depression Early in Development." Current Trends in Psychological Science. August 2010 19(4).

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