Depression isn’t uncommon for kids who learn and think differently. Depression often runs in families. But even for kids who don’t have a family history of depression, the ongoing challenges they face in school and life can take a toll.
Depression is more than just feeling or seeming sad. It can affect kids in many different ways. Even at young ages, kids who are depressed might talk about wanting to harm themselves. It’s important that you take this behavior seriously and seek medical attention right away.
This checklist includes signs of depression you may see at different ages. Every parent or caregiver will notice a few of these behaviors from time to time. But if your child starts showing many of them, don’t wait to talk to your health care provider.
Signs of depression in preschool
- Seems to have lost skills and gone backwards. Might use baby talk again or resume thumb-sucking.
- Has returned to having separation anxiety.
- Has become aggressive.
- No longer likes to play. Withdraws during playdates and puts up a fight about going on them.
- Goes off a regular sleep schedule. Might start napping at odd hours throughout the day.
- Is sluggish during the day.
- Is losing weight. Might have no interest in treats or in what’s being served at meals.
Signs of depression in grade school
- Frequently complains about aches and pains, but nothing’s physically wrong.
- Has a negative outlook on life in general.
- Talks often about feeling sad or lonely, despite having friends.
- Talks about being bullied, even when there are no signs of it.
- Does much worse in school or in sports. No longer cares about doing well in anything.
- Loses interest in daily activities. Says things are “boring.”
- Spends most free time on the couch in front of the TV.
- Isn’t gaining weight at a time when kids are growing rapidly.
Signs of depression in tweens and teens
- Seems distant. Has closed off emotionally to family and friends.
- Spends a lot of time behind closed doors.
- Seems uncharacteristically irritable and angry. Loses it over little things.
- Often lashes out in anger, including physically.
- Talks about feeling stupid, worthless, or hopeless.
- Thinks one bad outcome means everything else will be a disaster, too.
- Obsesses about shortcomings.
- Feels hopeless about the future.
- Is acting out with risky behavior.
- Has had dramatic changes in daily habits. Might start to binge on junk food or skip meals.
If you’re noticing many signs of depression in your child, don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider.
Read about why kids who learn and think differently might feel lonely. And if your child has ADHD, learn about the connection between ADHD and depression.
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About the author
About the author
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Martha Stewart.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.