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Depression in kids and teens

You might be unsure whether your child is just sad or if it’s something more serious like depression. Informing yourself and knowing when to seek professional support can help.

Dad looking at daughter wondering if she's sad or depressed

All of us experience sadness or feel low at times, and this is a normal response to upsetting events.

Usually after the event is over and some time has passed, sadness lifts and we return to our usual selves.

However there is another kind of sadness which is a mental illness - depression.

This sadness stays for weeks and the person loses enjoyment and interest in nearly all activities they could do previously, including study or work.

If your child has depression, it often won’t get better by itself and they need to see a doctor and get support.

“One in five teenagers is likely to experience a diagnosable depressive episode by the age of 18”

What causes depression?

The mental illness, depression, can be caused by many things.

Biological – family history, genetic predisposition
Psychological factors – stress, loss, neglect, abuse, bullying
Social factors – conflicts, breakups, money worries, moving location/school
Physical factors – medical issues, injuries, pain, sleep problems

How can you tell if your child might have depression?

If you notice three or more of these signs over several weeks, seek a check-up with your child’s doctor:

Avoidance of contact with friends, not returning messages

Major drop in performance at school and sports

Heightened irritability, anger or outbursts

Unable to make decisions

Changes in eating or sleeping

Hopelessness about the future

Sensitivity to failure or rejection

Criticising themselves

Persistent sadness and crying

Drug and alcohol misuse

Saying they can’t continue living

Deliberate self-harm

No energy or motivation, continuous tiredness

Uncharacteristic behaviours – recklessness, stealing, bullying

Things you can do as a parent or carer

Depression is tough to deal with alone. It’s important to get support for your child as well as yourself.

  • There can be an urge to deny that your child could have depression. Be prepared to tune into them, as well as your own feelings about this

  • Tell them you care. Take notice of what the world is like for them, not how you expect it to be

  • Stay close – making time to spend with them can help

  • Look out for signs they may be suicidal and seek professional help to make a safety plan

  • Your child is not alone – encourage them to contact Kids Helpline. They can call us, start a WebChat or send us an email

  • You are not alone – contact a counsellor at the Parentline service in your State or Territory and speak with your local Doctor

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