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Teen looking sad hugging her knees

Signs of Childhood Depression

It’s normal for a child to be sad and irritable from time-to-time, but depression is different. Depression lasts longer and can affect more than just a child’s mood. Your child may be showing signs of depression if:

  • He's sad and irritable more days than not.
  • He's not enjoying the things he used to.
  • He withdraws from family and friends.
  • He lacks the energy to complete tasks.
  • He has trouble focusing
  • He's expressing feelings of worthlessness.
  • There is a marked change in his eating habits and/or weight, either eating too much or too little.
  • He's sleeping too much or too little.
  • He complains of aches and pains with no medical reason.
  • He shows no interest in the future.
  • He has frequent thoughts about dying and suicide.

These signs often point to depression when seen together for more days than not.

Is Depression Common in Children?

According to data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 5 percent of children and teens living in the U.S. suffer from depression. Depression is more common in adolescents, but has been seen in children as young as 3. And after age 15, girls are twice as likely to be depressed than boys. Risk factors include personal or family history of depression, major life changes, trauma, stress and certain physical illnesses and medication.

How Parents Can Help

If you think your child is depressed talk to him, and talk to his pediatrician. Other conditions can look like depression. Your child’s pediatrician can rule out medical causes and can recommend counseling or refer you to a specialist for evaluation and treatment. Make sure he’s eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and exercise, limit screen time, praise and celebrate good behavior and point out strengths, and be sure to schedule some one-on-one time together to do things you both enjoy. Older kids may not want help; show them your love and support anyway. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say.

Depression can often be mistaken for laziness or moodiness. Help others understand your child is not making his symptoms up and talk to them about family history to increase their understanding. The good news is depression and other mood disorders are treatable. Early intervention is key, seek help sooner rather than later. Without help, symptoms can get worse and may lead to problems in school, substance abuse, self-harm and even suicide.

CHKD offers help for children and families with behavioral challenges at the main hospital in Norfolk, as well as CHKD locations in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Hampton. Please talk to your child's pediatrician about a referral to the program. Our team will work with you and your child to establish specific targets achievable within 12-20 therapy sessions. For more information, visit us online or email

About Stephanie Osler, LCSW

About Stephanie  Osler, LCSW Osler has cared for children and their families in various clinical settings for over 20 years. She has been at CHKD since 2003, first as a licensed clinical social worker in the emergency department and then as program manager of the social work department. Having the experience of providing direct services to children and their families over the past two decades, Osler has a solid understanding of current systems of care and the need for additional services to focus on treating the whole child.