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When Your Child Lacks Energy

Why Some Depressed Child Lack Energy and Feel Tired

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Updated August 27, 2011

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

A noticeable decrease in a child's energy can be a telltale sign that something is just "not right." In fact, lack of energy and always feeling tired are sometimes symptoms of childhood depression.

Lack of Energy

A lack of energy is considered to be a vegetative symptom common in major depressive disorder in children.

Children with depression are likely to lack energy on all or most days. They may lack motivation for almost anything – sometimes for even eating or bathing. 

Why Depression Slows Children Down

Researchers have identified several theories for why children with depression often feel so tired and unmotivated:

  • Insomnia, or difficulty with falling or staying sleep, is common in depressed children. Insomnia often leads to daytime sleepiness because of missed sleep. As a result a child may have problems with concentration and irritability
  • Neurotransmitter chemicals like, serotonin, are thought to be abnormally low in children with depression. Serotonin plays an important part of regulating a child’s sleep cycles, motivation, and activity level. Given this, many depression medications increase levels of serotonin and relieve depression symptoms in children. 
  • Hopelessness is another unfortunate symptom of depression in children. Hopelessness causes children to feel that their lives and futures are out of control. Often a hopeless child gives up trying to do almost anything and believes that her efforts are ineffective. 

How to Help

If your child is suddenly lacking energy or tired very often talk to her pediatrician. 

There are many reasons why a child might lack energy or be tired, like illness or a change in routine. A physician can rule out underlying medical illness and determine if your child needs to be evaluated further for depression

Many depression treatments for children improve a child’s energy level and alleviate insomnia. However, talk to your child’s provider if her symptoms worsen while she is already being treated. 

Helping your child get appropriate treatment for her depression helps ensure that her childhood is full of energy and joy. 

Sources:

Alexander Heinzel, Simone Grimm, Johannes Beck, et al. Segregated Neural Representation of Psychological and Somatic-Vegetative Symptoms in Severe Major Depression. Neuroscience Letters. 2009; 456: 49-53.

Avshalom Caspi, Karen Sugden, Terrie E. Moffitt, Alan Taylor, Ian W. Craig, HonaLee Harrington, Joseph McClay, Jonathan Mill, Judy Martin, Anthony Braithwaite, Richie Poulton. "Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene." Science. 18 Jul 2003 301:386-389.

Facts for Families: The Depressed Child. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Accessed: July 17, 2011. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_depressed_child

Joan L. Luby, M.D., Marilyn J. Essex, Ph.D., Jeffrey M. Armstrong, M.S., Marjorie H. Klein, Ph.D., Carolyn Aahn-Waxler, Ph.D., Jill P. Sullivan, M.S., and H. Hill Goldsmith, Ph.D. Gender Differences in Emotional Reactivity and AT Risk Preschoolers: Implications for Gender Specific Manifestations of Preschool Depression. The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. July 2009. 38(4): 525-537. 

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

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