Conditions + Treatments

Major Depression in Children

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Everyone, including children, goes through periods of feeling unhappy or listless. But if the feelings are very strong or persist for a long time, they might be caused by a medical problem. Major depression, or simply “depression,” is a serious condition that can take over your child’s mood and thoughts. The good news is that awareness and intervention from parents or other adults can help children with depression live normal and happy lives.

A child with depression typically feels a constant sense of discouragement, a loss of self-worth and little interest in activities he used to enjoy. It’s important to understand that your child, or anyone with depression, cannot just "snap out of it" or make himself feel better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for months or even years.

  • Depression in children has dramatically increased in recent years – between 7 and 14 percent of children will experience an episode of major depression before they turn 15.
  • Before puberty, boys and girls are equally at risk for depression. By age 15, girls are twice as likely as boys to have experienced a major depressive episode.
  • Around 80 percent of people with major depression who seek treatment improve, usually within weeks.

PLEASE NOTE:  If you feel your child is at immediate risk of self-harm or causing harm to others, you should call 911 right away.

How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches major depression

Children’s Department of Psychiatry has long been at the forefront of providing expert, compassionate care to children and adolescents with mental health issues. Our approach to mental health care is evidence-based—which means that our treatments have been tested and proven effective through scientific studies, both here at our hospital and by other leading institutions worldwide.

We use “talk therapy” as our primary method of treatment for depression, focusing on teaching children helpful thinking and coping skills to overcome symptoms and adopt new, healthier thought patterns and behaviors.

In certain instances, we might recommend the addition of anti-depression medication—always in conjunction with talk therapy. Children’s has a dedicated Psychopharmacology Clinic to help determine whether medication might be a helpful addition to the treatment plan.

Our team is always aware that your child is, first and foremost, a child—and not merely a recipient of care. You and your family are essential members of the treatment team, and our compassionate mental health professionals will include you in the process at every step of the way.

Major depression: Reviewed by David DeMaso, MD
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