What Causes Depression in Children and Teens?

What Causes Depression in Children and Teens

Causes of Depression in Kids and Teenagers

More than ever, depression in children and teens is a cause for concern due to increased prevalence rates in recent years. Depression rates of children between the ages of 12 and 18 rose from 16% in 2010 to 21.5% in 2015. A startling 26.4% of female students in the study agreed that they often feel depressed. If left untreated, early depression can lead to longer lasting patterns in adulthood as well as an increased risk of suicide.

Symptoms of Depression in Children and Teens

Depression in children and teens can be identified by a number of symptoms. These include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, losing interest in hobbies, spending less time with friends, and feelings of worthlessness. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes, “Irritability and/or anger are more common signs of depression in children and teens…younger children are more likely to have physical or bodily symptoms, such as aches or pains… as they may not have the emotional attunement …to talk about their emotions.” It’s important for parents to note their child’s symptoms and be aware of the causes of depression.

Screen Time Effects on Depression in Children and Teens

Researchers are finding a strong link between depression, thoughts of suicide, and heavy electronic use in children and teens. Among teens who spend 5 or more hours in front of a screen (e.g., TV, smartphone, laptop), 50% are at-risk for suicide. Children as young as 2 years old can be at risk for lowered well-being and depression if they spent excessive amounts of time in front of a screen. The main key in screen time is what children are looking at. Excessive time spent on social media sites opens children and teens up to cyber-bullying, social comparison, and validation of certain negative behaviors.

Sleep Effects on Depression in Children and Teens

Sleep is a critical factor for maintaining healthy behaviors, especially in children and adolescents. Excessive technology use has been linked to lowered sleep quality and quantity in children, which makes it more likely children will experience symptoms of depression. More time spent looking at screens and less time spent sleeping can result in insomnia, which interferes with relationships, academics, and even depression treatment. Parents whose children seem to be experiencing depressive symptoms should first regulate sleep patterns and reduce time spent on screens.

Life Events and Depression in Children and Teens

Parents should be aware of the impact major life changes can have on their child’s life. Children will no doubt experience some negative symptoms after a move, divorce, or death of a relative or pet. Parents should be aware that girls are three times more likely than boys to suffer from depression after a major life event. Children are more at risk if they lack a good support system or have an immediate family member who suffers from depression or another mood disorder. Most children adjust to a major event after a certain period of time, however if the child’s symptoms grow more severe or last for an abnormally long time, parents should ensure their child gets help. Depression in children and teens can often be reduced by seeking professional help and making lifestyle changes.

Dr. Sean Paul, MD is a dual board certified psychiatrist in both child and adult psychiatry. 

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