Childhood depression: Is your child suffering?


Depression in children and adolescents can be a serious problem. According to Mental Health America, 16% of teens (ages 12 to 18) reported having experienced at least one depressive episode in the past year. A mood disorder that causes sadness and can be present every day for 2 or more weeks, depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States.

Children and teens may have trouble talking about or describing how they are feeling. They may also try to hide their feelings because they don’t want to bother or upset you. However, there are common symptoms you may notice in your child that can help you start a conversation with them about how they’re feeling. Here are some common symptoms your child may experience when they have a problem with depression.

symptoms of depression

The first two most common symptoms of depression are:

  • You seem sad and irritable and have been for at least 2 weeks
  • Loss of enjoyment from activities that used to make you happy

Other signs of depression you may notice:

  • difficulties with schoolwork
  • Spend more time alone and less time with friends
  • I have a hard time concentrating
  • Seems to have less energy or motivation to complete simple tasks
  • Cries more easily and expresses more guilt or worthlessness
  • Change in sleep pattern (difficulty sleeping or tired all day)
  • Changes in eating habits (eating too much or too little)
  • Engage in self-harm or self-destructive behavior
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In teenagers, these symptoms can also occur with depression:

  • Desperate for their future
  • Lack of interest in personal hygiene
  • Involvement in substance use/abuse

conversation starter

If you notice some of these symptoms in your child that last longer than two weeks, the next step is to ask how they are feeling. Some easy conversation starters about mental health include:

It’s very important to be open with your child about how they felt. Encourage them to share their feelings with you. Asking a direct question is the best way for your child to open up about their feelings.

One tip for you as a parent is to listen with an open mind to the concerns your child expresses to you. Don’t minimize the feelings your child shares with you.

Using a “feel thermometer” is a great tool to work with your child on how they are feeling. This tool is located on the Office of Children’s Mental Health website.

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Next Steps

What can I do if my child or teen seems depressed?

  • If your child or teen reports symptoms that last more than 2 weeks, contact your child’s doctor to determine if further treatment is needed.
  • Find out about depression and community resources, including mental health professionals who can help, by visiting the Racine County Family Resource website.
  • Support your child during this time by staying healthy. These include healthy eating and sleeping habits, physical activity outdoors, focusing on your strengths, and practicing mindfulness or relaxation.

Suicide plans, prevention and professional help

Depression can make your child think about suicide or develop a suicide plan. According to the CDC, suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents ages 10 to 24. If your child is expressing suicidal thoughts, this is the right time to seek help. In our Racine community, you can call the Racine Crisis Hotline at 262-638-6741 or the National Suicide Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8 for help from trained professionals.

Feeling sad or hopeless from time to time is part of every child’s life. If your child or teen experiences persistent sadness and hopelessness, they may be suffering from depression. Depression is treatable and the key is to recognize the symptoms early. If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from depression, talking to your child’s doctor or your child’s school social worker or counselor is a wonderful first step. These professionals can help ensure your child gets the support they need.

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Julie Hueller is manager of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. This collaborative group is made up of “community leaders, members, youth and lived experience partners” dedicated to treating the mental health and addiction issues, including prevention, of youth in the greater Racine area.

The mission of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health is to help develop innovative solutions through community collaborations to address the unmet mental health, addiction, prevention and early intervention needs of our Racine County children and their families.

Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health website


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