Depression, Part 1 — Introduction, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Youth Depression?

Depression is also called Major Depressive Disorder and occurs when a person experiences a depressed mood, hopelessness or a loss of pleasure in normal childhood activities. To make the diagnosis, these symptoms must last for at least two weeks and be present for most of each day during that time. A significant difference between the diagnostic criteria for children and adults is that children might exhibit irritability and oppositional behavior, with or without sadness.

Depression has many faces.

Depression can be difficult to diagnose. It can be seen as a normal human response to a stressful life event, a symptom of a medical illness, a side effect of a certain medical treatments or the result of an imbalance in the brain's chemistry. While the cause of depression is not fully understood, it is thought that depression in a young person is caused by the same factors that cause depression in adults. These can be neurochemical, genetic, health, environmental or cognitive.

Symptoms and challenges of the diagnosis

Children with depression face the same affective, cognitive, and behavioral difficulties as adults. Childhood depression has a greater long-term impact on an individual's life than adult depression. It hinders essential developmental processes, such as forming friendships, building relationships with family, and achieving academic or sports success. Even after the symptoms of depression decline or disappear, these difficulties can persist because the child has lost the opportunity to grow and develop these skills normally. Symptoms of depression also frequently recur. Up to 70 percent of children will suffer another depressive episode within five years.

Risks associated with childhood depression include substance abuse, smoking, physical illness, early pregnancy, exposure to negative life events and poor academic functioning. Young people who suffer depression are more likely than others to suffer severe physical complications, mental illness and impaired functioning into adult life. Suicide, which is associated with depression, is the third leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 24.

Depression has many faces.

Symptoms of depression are:

  • changes in mood, energy, concentration, sleep, appetite and social relationships
  • irritability or anger
  • physical complaints
  • crying
  • sadness or hopelessness
  • occasionally, one can see:
    • auditory or visual hallucinations
    • suicidal thoughts or behaviors


The treatment is most often a combination of medication (discussed in more detail on the next page) and psychotherapy. Therapy is an essential part of treatment for depression. Therapy can include:

  • altering negative thought patterns
  • learning problem-solving skills
  • practicing deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation
  • visualization
  • parent education about the disorder
  • social skills training
  • exercise
  • proper nutrition
  • school involvement

The traditional type of therapy is "talk therapy" with a trained therapist. Another type is "behavioral therapy", which involves the patient and therapist formulating goals or new skills to work toward changing behavior patterns. This type of therapy also encourages acknowledgement of positive events and behaviors. The last type of therapy is "cognitive-behavioral therapy" (CBT). This approach challenges self-defeating thoughts (cognitive) and seeks to modify outward actions (behavioral). CBT addresses a patient's self-defeating thought patterns by helping the patient understand that thoughts affect emotions and behaviors, and behaviors and emotions affect thoughts.

For more information, see:

Part 2 — Medications and Implications for School

For more information about TeleKidcare services for youth depression and adjustment concerns, please contact:

Eve-Lynn Nelson, Ph.D.

Also see:

American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill