Early Signs of Depression in Children

A child’s emotional health is just as important as their physical health. We as parents expect the terrible twos and know that tweens/teens can be erratic and moody. But how are you to know if its more than just being a teenager? Read on for some great tips and advice from my guest blog post by Sean Paul, MD.


As a parent, there aren’t many things more distressing than worrying about your child’s happiness. As a child psychiatrist, I can provide some useful insights that parents and family members can use to identify early signs of depression in a child or teen.

What most people don’t know is that depression is common in children and teens, and is often not recognized and treated. Studies suggest that up to 8% of children 12-18 years old have major depression1!

Early Signs of Depression Include:

1)      Depressed Mood: This is a general term for feeling sad, down, or low most of the time. In children, however, this can look a bit different and present more like irritability. This is because children aren’t as good at identifying and organizing their emotions.

2)      Losing pleasure in things: Children with depression can find things they used to enjoy to now be “boring” or “stupid”. This can include activities, friends, or other things they used to enjoy.

3)      Weight change: Some children with depression gain or lose weight. In some cases, it’s a lack of the weight gain they should have had as they grow that is a sign.

4)      Sleep problems: Any sleep issues can be a sign of depression. This includes having a hard time falling or staying asleep, waking up in the night, waking too early, or sleeping way more than they used to.

5)      Restlessness: If a child is suddenly pacing around, pulling on their clothes all the time, wringing their hands, or other fidgeting, that can be a sign of depression.

6)      Loss of energy: Medical causes should be ruled out, but otherwise being tired and unmotivated can be a sign of depression.

7)      Feelings of guilt or being worthless: The child may be overly disappointed in themselves over small things, negative about their activities or school or self-image.

8)      Trouble concentrating: Problems paying attention and concentrating can be a sign of depression.

Other concerning signs:

1)      Thoughts or plans of death or suicide

2)      Hearing or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)

If you have any concerns that your child may be depressed, talk to their doctor right away so that they can help, or refer you to someone who can! It is always better to be overly cautious when it comes to depression, rather than to miss the signs or dismiss them as no big deal.


Sean Paul, MD Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Founder at NowPsych.com


1) Mental health surveillance among children--United States, 2005-2011. Perou R, Bitsko RH, Blumberg SJ, Pastor P, Ghandour RM, Gfroerer JC, Hedden SL, Crosby AE, Visser SN, Schieve LA, Parks SE, Hall JE, Brody D, Simile CM, Thompson WW, Baio J, Avenevoli S, Kogan MD, Huang LN, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) MMWR Suppl. 2013;62(2):1 .