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Symptoms and Signs of Depression in Children and Adolescents

Depression in children and teens is not rare. However, because normal behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child is just going through a temporary phase or is suffering from depression. Here is a list of symptoms and signs to help identify when a child is suffering from depression.

Symptoms of Depression Common to Children, Adolescents, and Adults

Common symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Unexplained irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite or body weight
  • Early morning awakening
  • Changes in sleep patterns, includes too little or too much sleep
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Signs of Depression That May Be Present in Children and Adolescents
  • Frequent vague, nonspecific physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or tiredness
  • Not wanting to go to school, which can lead to frequent absences and poor performance
  • Pretending to be sick
  • Outbursts of shouting, complaining, or crying
  • Boredom
  • Difficulty with relationships, including social isolation or poor communication
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Clinging to parent
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Reckless behavior
  • Fear of death

Note: Not every depressed child will experience every symptom—some will experience a few symptoms, some many; and the severity of symptoms will vary from child to child. Depression can be very serious, but it is treatable. If your child is showing any of these signs and symptoms, talk with your child's doctor.


American Psychological Association

National Institute of Mental Health


Canadian Mental Health Association

Mental Health Canada


Depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated October 30, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

Depression in children and teens. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated August 2012. Accessed January 16, 2014.

How do children and adolescents experience depression? National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: Accessed January 16, 2015.

Symptoms of depression. website. Available at: Updated November 2011. Accessed January 16, 2015.

Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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