Depression: Signs and symptoms


What are the main signs and symptoms of depression in children and teens?

The main signs and symptoms of depression fall into the following categories:

  • emotional
  • cognitive (mental)
  • behavioural
  • physical.

Emotional symptoms

If your child or teen is depressed, they will likely experience:

  • a general low mood
  • irritability
  • feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness.

Cognitive symptoms

A child or teen who experiences depression may:

  • have generally negative or distorted thoughts about themselves or their environment
  • think about self-harm​ or suicide.

Behavioural symptoms

If a child or teen is depressed, they may change their behaviour or routine by:

  • losing interest in or avoiding activities they previously enjoyed
  • avoiding school.

Physical symptoms

Depression can have a number of physical effects on a child or teen, including:

  • low energy
  • trouble with concentration
  • decreased or increased appetite
  • sleeping less or more than usual
  • feeling physically slowed down
  • feeling tense and restless.

How children experience depression

Children may experience depression as an increase in irritability, for instance through more frequent temper tantrums and crying. They are also likely to start avoiding previously enjoyed activities.

Young children may not be able to express how they are thinking or feeling but may complain more often of vague physical complaints such as nausea or stomach aches. They might also experience a change in their appetite. Some children may voice thoughts of suicide or the wish to no longer be around.

How teens experience depression

The physical symptoms of depression are similar in teenagers and children. However, teens tend to have different cognitive and behavioural symptoms. For instance, teens with depression may express thoughts of suicide more often than younger children. They may also become more withdrawn and choose to spend more time by themselves rather than attend school, spend time with friends or take part in extra-curricular activities (such as sports or hobbies). Some teens may also self-harm as part of depression.

How depression is diagnosed

Your child’s doctor will speak to you and your child or teen and ask you both about:

  • your concerns and symptoms that are interfering with your child’s everyday routine
  • any current stressors in your child’s life
  • any event that could have triggered your child’s depressive symptoms
  • your child’s development (from pregnancy onwards)
  • your family’s mental health history
  • general family functioning and any stressors that might contribute to your child’s symptoms.

The doctor might ask you and your child, if they are old enough, to fill out rating scales to help them make a diagnosis. If the doctor identifies a number of signs and symptoms over a certain time (two weeks or longer), your child might meet the criteria for depression.

What your child’s doctor can do for depression

If your child is diagnosed with depression, you, your child and the doctor will decide together on the best treatment plan. This decision may need input from other members of your family or your child’s teachers.

Your doctor may also suggest that your child see a therapist or a psychiatrist and make lifestyle changes. They may also recommend medications​.

Key points

  • Depression has a number of emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. They need to be present for two weeks or longer in order for the diagnosis to be made.
  • Your child’s doctor will conduct an interview, and possibly have you and your child fill out rating scales in order to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Your child’s doctor might recommend that your child see another mental health professional for therapy or further evaluation, and may recommend medications or lifestyle changes.


Further information

For more information on depression, please see the following pages:

Depression: Overview

Depression: Treatment with medications

Depression: Treatment with psychotherapy and lifestyle changes​

Marijana Jovanovic, MD, FRCPC
Daphne Korczak MD, MSc, FRCPC (Paediatrics), FRCPC (Psychiatry)​
Irfan Mian, MD, FRCPC, DABPN​​