Treatments for Major Depression in Children

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 At Boston Children's Hospital, we view the diagnosis as a starting point. Your child's clinician will take into account his situation and your thoughts and preferences, but treatment is often therapy, with or without medication.

Talking with a therapist can help your child learn to manage sad feelings by developing new strategies. These include learning how to:

  • identify and talk about feelings
  • stop thinking automatically negative thoughts
  • find activities that are soothing and comforting
  • discover and appreciate good things about himself
  • build hope for the future

Therapy can also help your child:

  • work through difficult relationships and situations
  • identify stressors in and figure out how to avoid or handle them
  • improve his view of her environment

As with any treatment, parents and teachers play a vital and supportive role.

If your child's depression does not improve with therapy, or his depression is so severe that he has lost most of his ability to function or begins to think about harming himself, we may prescribe antidepressants. These can not only help your child feel better, but also help him feel more motivated to work on coping skills in therapy.

Unfortunately, no single medication is effective in all children, and a trial-and-error period may last for weeks or even months as doctors find the best treatment for your child. When considering medication as a treatment option for your child, his clinician will take into account:

  • how well the drug has been shown to treat the symptoms your child is showing
  • his family history
  • side effects of the drug, if any
  • how easy it will be to take the medication as prescribed

It's important to remember – and for your child to remember – that in order to have a chance for it to work, medication must be taken regularly as prescribed. Learn more about psychiatric medications for children and adolescents

While not a treatment in the strictest sense of the word, paying attention to your child's environment can also help treat his depression. If a situation at home could be contributing to your child's depression, family therapy may be helpful. If other circumstances are triggering the sad feelings, and it is at all possible to change them, doing so will increase the chance of successful treatment.

If your child is diagnosed with a mental health condition in addition to depression, such as anxiety, treatment must address both conditions.

If your child's depression is particularly severe, debilitating or self-endangering, hospitalization may be required. Here at Children's Psychiatry Inpatient Service, our experts provide family-oriented psychiatric assessment and treatment with the goal of returning your child to a more comfortable environment for ongoing care.

Coping and support

Depression can make your child feel like he's all alone, and it's often hard on the whole family, too. That's why we've developed several ways to help you connect with resources and support. Depression in children is not uncommon, and there's a lot of help available.

In cooperation with the Boston Bar Association, we've developed a How-to Guide to Children's Mental Health Services in Massachusetts. This guide can help answer questions including:

  • Is my child's behavior just a phase?
  • Can my child's school help us?
  • Should my child see a professional?
  • What other services are out there?
  • How do I pay for them?

The Advocating Success for Kids (ASK) Program at Children's provides multidisciplinary evaluation, referral and advocacy services for children under age 14 with behavioral, emotional, learning or developmental problems, either at home or at school. ASK works with children who receive their primary care at: 

For more information about ASK, please call 617-355-4690.

Children's Center for Families is dedicated to helping families locate the information and resources they need to better understand their child's particular condition and take part in their care. All patients, families and health professionals are welcome to use the Center's services at no extra cost. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please call 617-355-6279 for more information.

The Children's chaplaincy is a source of spiritual support for parents and family members. Our program includes nearly a dozen clergy members—representing Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and United Church of Christ traditions—who will listen to you, pray with you and help you observe your own faith practices during your child's treatment.

The Experience Journal was designed by Children's psychiatrist-in-chief David DeMaso, MD and members of his team. This online collection features thoughts, reflections and advice from kids and caregivers dealing not only with physical illnesses like asthma and diabetes, but also with such mental health conditions as depression and ADHD.

Visit our For Patients and Families page to learn about:

  • getting to Children's
  • finding accommodations
  • navigating the hospital experience

Helpful links

Please note that Boston Children's Hospital does not unreservedly endorse all of the information found at the sites listed below. These links are provided as a resource.

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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.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944