Children's Hospital Colorado
Mental Health

Pediatric Depression

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Pediatric Mental Health Institute
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What is depression?

It’s normal for kids to be sad or feel intense feelings sometimes, even for small periods of time. But pediatric depression is different from everyday sadness, and it can be caused by multiple factors including medical problems.

Childhood depression is a mental health disorder defined by a sad or irritable mood that is lengthy and severe and is accompanied by changes in motivation, thinking and functioning. It’s important to know that more than 18% of children will experience depression before they turn 15.

If the sadness or irritability persists for two weeks or more and is affecting day-to-day life, it may be clinical depression. Depression is a serious illness that kids can’t “snap out of” and should be taken seriously, but it is also treatable. Depression is also a risk factor for developing other mental health symptoms and disorders.

What causes depression?

Although the exact cause of mood disorders such as depression is unknown, similarly to adults, depression in children is often caused by a combination of factors. Depression could be caused by:

  • Poor physical health or chronic illness
  • Life events including major transitions or changes
  • Family history
  • Environment
  • Genetics or biochemical changes such as puberty
  • Abuse or trauma
  • Excessive stress

Who gets depression?

It’s hard to know how many kids have depression at any given time, but it is common for kids to experience some symptoms of depression during childhood. In children, depression is much more common in boys under age 10 and by age 14, girls are more likely to have depression.

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