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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
What is childhood depression?
Childhood depression is a mental health disorder characterized by a sad mood that is both prolonged and severe. Typically, if your child has major depression, he:
In order for your child’s problems to be considered major depression, three conditions must be met:
Major depression can be treated with medication, therapy and hospitalization, if necessary.
What’s the difference between depression and grief?
Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. While grief and depression share certain symptoms (e.g. sadness, too much or too little sleep, changes in eating patterns), grief is not as constant. In other words, a person who is grieving may feel very sad when thinking about or remembering the loss, but feel somewhat better around friends and family. But someone with depression rarely finds relief from his or her sadness. Learn more about grieving and bereavement.
What are the risks of depression?
If you think your child might be depressed, it’s important that he is evaluated sooner rather than later. If left untreated, depression could lead to:
Why do children become depressed?
While the exact cause of depression and other mood disorders is not known, they've been linked to genetics and environmental factors. The most common factors associated with major depression include:
There are biological, psychological and social factors that can contribute to depression separately or in combination.
No matter what the underlying cause, we know how hard depression can be on your child and your family both, and we’re here to help.
Could a physical illness be causing my child’s depression?
Low thyroid levels may sometimes cause fatigue and other symptoms that may mimic symptoms of depression. Your child’s doctor can discuss this with you in more detail.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
While each child may experience symptoms differently, some of the most common include:
What’s the long-term outlook for my child?
Depression is considered to be a recurrent illness. It’s impossible to say for sure for any given child, but it is thought that:
Q: Will my child get better?
A: The majority of children respond to treatment for depression, so it’s most likely that your child will, too.
A: This depends on many factors. A child who is good at communicating may benefit from talk therapy (our primary method of treatment) more quickly than a child who is more hesitant. If your child is taking medication, it may take a while to find the ones that work best.
Q: What is the treatment for depression?
A:Treatment for depression may be biological, psychological and environmental:
Another psychological treatment may simply be time. Your child’s brain is continually growing and developing, usually until he is 22 to 24 years old. Depression often goes away on its own as a teenager enters his early 20s and becomes better able to manage his thoughts and feelings.
Q: How can I pay for my child’s treatment?
A: If you have health insurance, many plans cover mental health treatments. Our How-to Guide to Children’s Mental Health Services in Massachusetts can help you figure out other ways to get your child the help she needs.
Q: What is dysthemic disorder?
A: Dysthemic disorder, or “dysthemia,” is a milder form of depression. If your child has dysthemia, he will be in a depressed or irritable for most of the day, more days than not, for at least a year. He may not seem as depressed as a child with major depression, but still not function or feel well.
To be diagnosed with dysthemia, your child must show impaired functioning at home, school and/or with friends. Children with dysthemia may also experience a bout of major depression; this is sometimes called “double depression.”
It's estimated that around four out of 100 children and teens have dysthemia, and it' s equally common in boys and girls. Children with dysthemia are more likely to develop major depression as teenagers or young adults.
Q: Are antidepressants safe for children to take?
A: The safety and efficacy of antidepressants for children and teens have been studied extensively. Prozac and other medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to be safe in most studies and can be effective for teenagers, but should be carefully monitored by the prescribing physician. If your child’s treatment provider thinks that she may benefit from taking antidepressants, she will discuss this with you in detail.
Q: What is the “black label warning” I keep hearing about when it comes to certain psychiatric medications?
A: Since 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has placed a black warning label on antidepressant medications, warning that antidepressants can increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents with major depression and other psychiatric disorders.
If your child is prescribed antidepressants, we will carefully go over the specifics of the drug, as well as any potential side effects you should watch for. Our expert team has years of experience in managing the use of psychiatric medications in children. We will always closely monitor your child for any sign of a negative response to the medication, and are always here to answer your questions and address any concerns you may have.
Q: What should I do if I think my child is depressed?
A:If you think your child is depressed, it’s important that you take him to be evaluated as early as possible. Contact your child’s pediatrician, who may refer you to a mental health professional.
If you’re concerned that your child might harm herself or others, call your child’s mental health practitioner or primary care doctor immediately. If he or she is unavailable, take your child to the emergency room. It’s very important that you take any signs that your child may be suicidal seriously. Learn more about teen suicide.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”