Though the term "depression" can describe a normal human emotion, it also can refer to a psychiatric disorder. Depressive illness in children and adolescents includes a cluster of symptoms which have been present for at least two weeks.

In addition to feelings of sadness and/or irritability, a depressive illness includes several of the following:

  • Change of appetite with either significant weight loss (when not dieting) or weight gain
  • Change in sleeping patterns (such as trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much)
  • Loss of interest in activities formerly enjoyed
  • Loss of energy, fatigue, feeling slowed down for no reason, "burned out"
  • Feelings of guilt and self blame for things that are not one's fault
  • Inability to concentrate and indecisiveness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Recurring thought of death and suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide
Children and adolescents with depression may also have symptoms of irritability, grumpiness, and boredom. They may have vague, non-specific physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, etc.). There is an increased incidence of depressive illness in the children of parents with significant depression.

For additional information see the following Facts for Families:
#4 - The Depressed Child