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5 Signs Your Child Might Be Depressed

Children can become depressed just as adults can, but they may not yet have the ability to articulate their feelings the way adults do. Depression is a serious medical concern. It affects both the mind and body. Without treatment, symptoms can continue for weeks, months or years. Depression in children and adolescents is especially risky because it is associated with a higher risk of suicide.

The following signs may indicate your child is struggling with depression:

  1. Loss of enjoyment in activities. Whether your bookworm 11-year-old no longer wants to read, or your high school athlete starts skipping practices, a loss of interest in once-beloved activities is often a red flag to a mental health problem.
  2. Changes in grades or behavior at school. A sudden drop in grades may mean your child has lost interest in her favorite subjects or that he is having trouble concentrating. Both changes could signal depression. Irritability, aggression or tearfulness may show up at school first. Ask your child’s teachers about any noticeable changes in mood, behavior or academic performance.
  3. Changes in appetite. Loss of appetite can be a sign of depression, but so can a sudden tendency to overeat. If your child shows a sudden change in appetite -- or weight loss or gain -- it may signal that he or she is struggling with depression. Use caution in addressing the topic of weight changes. Depressed children and adolescents may also struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, making weight gain or loss a potentially touchy subject.
  4. Fallout with friends. Mood changes, increased irritability and loss of interest in enjoyable activities may also affect your child’s friendships and peer relationships. If play date invitations suddenly plummet or your teen’s friends quit calling, it may be a sign of depression.
  5. Frequent physical pains or complaints. Depression can have very real physical effects. Fatigue, headaches, stomach aches and digestive problems are common complaints. A medical check-up can determine whether there is an underlying physical cause, and provide an opportunity to discuss mental health with your child’s doctor.

While these five signs are a starting point, they are not the only symptoms of depression. Showing these signs doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is depressed. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, consult your family doctor or pediatrician. If your child expresses suicidal thoughts, seek immediate help.

For more information about depression that is specific to teens, visit Major Depression in Adolescents. If you’re looking for a pediatrician or family doctor, visit Riley at IU Health to locate expert, compassionate care near you.

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