Every child feels sad, disappointed or grouchy at times but some children and adolescents experience troubles with mood that extend beyond the normal ups and downs. These children struggle with low mood that persists for weeks or even longer, and sadness or irritability get in the way of their lives.
Depression affects approximately 6% of all children and adolescents in the United States. Kids who are depressed may find that nothing seems fun anymore and often complain about being bored. They may say that they want to be alone, or spend a lot of time in their rooms, gradually pulling away from family and friends. They can be “touchy” or irritable, especially with parents and siblings. Parents and teachers may notice that children with depression often complain of feeling tired or wiped out and have changes in their sleep patterns and appetites. They can seem really down on themselves and have a hard time seeing how things will get better. For some kids, depression leads them to feels so miserable and hopeless that they consider harming themselves or committing suicide. Such behavior understandably leads to a great deal of concern from parents, family members and others. However, parents often feel unsure about how to help, especially when usual techniques of distraction or encouragement don’t seem to work.
Fortunately, research has shown that psychotherapy for depression can be effective in helping children and adolescents feel better. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one treatment that is especially useful for treating depression in children and adolescents. CBT focuses on increasing structured, pleasurable activities and figuring out thinking habits that have kept the depressed mood going. Using a collaborative, problem solving approach, children and adolescents learn to monitor their thoughts and behaviors and make changes to improve their mood. Additionally, some children and adolescents benefit from therapy that is more focused on their interpersonal relationships. In some cases, children find that antidepressant medication can be a helpful addition to psychotherapy.