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Clinical depression affects the whole person

June 09, 2003|by Christine L. Moats

Q: What are the signs of early-onset depression in children?

A: Clinical depression goes beyond sadness or even having a bad day. It is a form of mental illness that affects the whole person - how one thinks, feels and acts. Depression in children can lead to failure in school, drug use and even suicide.

Signs of early-onset depression:

  • Persistent sadness and hopelessness.

  • Withdrawal from friends and from activities once enjoyed.

  • Increased irritability or agitation.

  • Missed school or poor school performance.

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits.

  • Indecision, lack of concentration, or forgetfulness.

  • Poor self-esteem or guilt.

  • Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches.

  • Lack of enthusiasm, low energy or low motivation.

  • Drug or alcohol abuse.

  • Thoughts of death or suicide.



If parents or another adult in a young person's life suspect a problem with depression, they should:

  • Be aware of the behaviors that concern them and note the frequency, severity and length of time of the behaviors.

  • See a mental health professional or the child's doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.

  • Get accurate information from libraries, help lines and other sources.

  • Ask questions about treatments and services.

  • Talk to other families with similar problems in the community.

  • Find a family support group such as NAMI.



Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for children with depression. If your child or teenager exhibits symptoms of depression, he should be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating children and teenagers.

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- Sources: www.nmha.org and www.nami.org on the Web.

This column does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your health-care provider if you have a medical question. Christine L. Moats is a wellness coordinator at Washington County Hospital.

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