Childhood and depression are two things that shouldn’t go together, but all to frequently do. Life happens to all of us, and kids aren’t immune from its painful realities. As these insults and injuries start to stack up, it can leave children and teens struggling with depression.

Is it normal for a child to be depressed?

Depression among teens is surprisingly common. In fact, around 20% of all teens will become clinically depressed sometime during adolescence (Cloud, 2009), and rates have been rising in recent years. Depression among preteen children is far less prevalent, but still affects around 1 in 20 elementary-age children.

Isolated bouts of depression following an upsetting event are normal for youth, and aren’t necessarily anything to worry about. For example, it’s not unusual for a teen to become severely depressed and not want to get out of bed for a week or two after her boyfriend breaks up with her, or for a younger child to become sullen after the death of a favorite pet. There are also certain events in life, such as the death of a loved one, that are naturally traumatic. In such circumstances, a sullen mood is a normal part of the grieving process.

Such moods really only become a problem when a child remains stuck in this depressive state for longer than a month or two, or when you don’t see any improvement in their mood as time progresses. When depressive symptoms persist, it becomes clinical depression, and something that needs to be addressed.

Why it’s important to take childhood depression seriously
Although not uncommon, depression in children and teens is more worrisome than depression among adults, for a couple reasons. First of all, when depression occurs in preteen children, it is a sign that something is seriously wrong. If these problems aren’t addressed, it can significantly impact their development. While depression among teens is much more normal, and often just a developmental phase, depressed teens are at greater risk for developing unhealthy habits like substance abuse that could affect them the rest of their life. It is also one of the leading causes of suicide. And because both children and teens are more impressionable, and at a more malleable stage in their development, depression in youth has more potential to alter their life course than depression among adults. So while parents shouldn’t panic, and most episodes of youth depression will eventually subside on their own, it is something you should take seriously.

Additional information on childhood depression

Resources for children & teens struggling with depression
The following resources for parents, teachers, and other professionals will help address depression in children and teens:

Additional mental health resources for parents & teachers
This book and the online portions of it linked from this page deal exclusively with childhood depression and its treatment approaches. Yet many times a youth’s depression is merely a symptom of a much broader mental health problem. For those who are concerned about their child’s overall welfare, we also have several other books that caregivers might find useful. Each of these publications address various topics in child welfare:

Troubled Teens
This book will help you better understand why so many kids struggle during adolescence, while discussing ways of helping troubled youth find a positive pathway for their life.

Difficult children
Addresses dealing with kids who have emotional or behavioral disorders, including tips for working with kids with serious emotional disturbances.

Vulnerable children
Valuable information for those working with foster kids, abused or neglected children, kids who have substance-abusing parents, or other youth whose struggles might stem from childhood adversity and a compromised upbringing. It helps you understand what type of vulnerabilities these challenges create and how you can address the underlying insecurities that give rise to mental health issues.

Child mental Health Handbook
A general reference book for parents and teachers. It discusses how mental health problems are diagnosed, problems with the diagnostic process, what types of biological and environmental factors give rise to mental health problems, and information on the different diagnoses. A useful book for parents who want to learn more about the way mental health issues are handled in this country.

How Society Is Making Kids Ill (Coming soon)
Unfortunately, many aspects of our culture are not very friendly to the spirit and welfare of children. This book discusses why our society is driving up rates of mental illness in children to unprecedented levels, and what parents can do about it.

Helping Kids Heal: A Guide to Childhood Trauma & Recovery
Information and techniques to help children recover in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, whether that trauma be the death of a loved one, living through a natural disaster, experiencing violence, or even dealing with socially traumatic experiences like divorce. A good resource to help kids who are symptomatic because of recent turmoil in their lives.