Many children and teens experience sadness for short periods of time that can be completely normal. However, there are some key signs and symptoms that can help parents and educators recognize when a period of sadness has started to affect a child or teen’s functioning.

Here are some basic symptoms of depression in children and teens to watch out for:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school
  • Change in eating habits
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling worthless or restless
  • Frequent sadness or crying
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • Loss of energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If your child or teen is experiencing many of these symptoms and has been for at least two weeks, it can be good to contact a mental health professional to assess what is happening in your child/ teen.

Children or adolescents between the age of 6-18  who have depressive disorder symptoms would be diagnosed with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder or DMDD. Children or adolescents diagnosed with this will have the following symptoms:

  • Irritable or angry mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Severe temper outbursts (verbal or behavioral) at an average of three or more times per week that are out of keeping with the situation and the child’s developmental level
  • Trouble functioning due to irritability in more than one place (e.g., home, school, with peers)

**To receive a diagnosis of DMDD, your child must be at least 6 years of age and have presented with these symptoms regularly for a period of 12 months***

Treatment of Depression in Children & Teens:

The National Institute of Mental Health has advised that while researchers are still determining which treatments work best, two major types of treatment are currently used to treat DMDD symptoms:

  • Medication
  • Psychological treatments
    • Psychotherapy- including Cognitive Behavioral therapy
    • Parent training
    • Computer based training

At MCFT, we work with families, teachers and caregivers to fully assess your child’s needs and determine the best course of treatment. The assessment includes:

  • Review of current symptoms, concerns, duration and intensity
  • A thorough review of child development and past medical history
  • Review of family systems
  • Additional important family background information including history of mental health issues

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in treatment because family plays a crucial role in helping to reinforce learned coping skills, reduce triggers, and alter family dynamics that contribute to an imbalance of perceived security.  Treatment may include a combination of the following:

  • Play therapy to assist child in expressing what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express thoughts and feelings.
  • Family therapy including play to explore and/or challenge existing family dynamics
  • Traditional “talk therapy” to create a space of unconditional acceptance
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to replace negative thought patterns
  • Psycho-education with family to learn causes, symptoms, and treatment of depression
  • Medication is discussed and referred as needed

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