Depression in children and adolescents

"It is essential that parents know the symptoms of depression in children, that they know it is not their fault, and that it is a disease that has a very effective treatment".


Childhood depression is a fairly common and serious psychiatric illness in children and adolescents. It is a disease classified within the so-called mood disorders, and has been described for centuries in different cultures.

Approximately 5%, or one in 20 children and adolescents, will have a depressive episode before their 19th birthday. The reality is that less than half of these children receive adequate treatment. Studies show that parents often seriously underestimate the intensity of their children's depression.

Recent research shows that children and adolescents suffer from depression with symptoms sometimes similar to those of adults, and also with other specific and different symptoms according to age.

There are several types of mood disorders that can affect them, such as major depression, dysthymia (a mild but long-lasting depressive state), and so-called manic-depressive (or bipolar) illness.

What are the symptoms of depression in children or adolescents?

  • High irritability, anger or extreme hostility.
  • Frequent sadness or crying spells.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Decreased interest in activities, or difficulty enjoying previously favorite activities.
  • Persistent boredom.
  • Lack of energy or tiredness.
  • Social isolation or lack of communication.
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of guilt or responsibility for bad things that may happen.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or low resistance to failures or errors.
  • Frequent complaints about physical problems (such as headaches, or stomach aches, dizziness, nausea...) in which no medical cause is found.
  • Frequent absences from school, or decreased school performance.
  • Concentration problems.
  • Major change in eating or sleeping habits.
  • Conversations about intention to run away from home.
  • Thoughts or expressions about death or intention to actively or passively commit suicide.

Does your child have any of these symptoms?

You may have a depression

How is childhood depression diagnosed?

Imagen de una paciente adolescente en tratamiento psiquiátrico con el Dr. Soutullo

The diagnosis and treatment of children with depression should be done by a team of professionals with experience in this disease. It is a relatively frequent problem but with the correct approach and treatment it has good results. The coordinated work with the parents is essential to achieve a solution to the problem.

The diagnosis should be made by means of a clinical interview. Specific techniques should be used, both verbal and non-verbal, due to the existence of cognitive and verbalization limitations in this age group.

To complete the psychopathological evaluation, the information provided by the parents and the school environment is essential.

After listening to the parents, evaluating the child and performing the necessary complementary tests, the team of doctors, psychologists and nurses arrive at a diagnosis using the most modern and up-to-date methodology available.

The frequency of depression is equal in boys and girls before puberty, but after puberty, girls are more at risk of suffering from depression.

How is childhood depression treated?

Often the treatment of depression in children and adolescents requires a combination of parental education, psychotherapy and medication.

1. Treatment with medication: 
The antidepressants that have been shown in scientific studies to be effective in children and adolescents with depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications are not drugs, do not create dependence or addiction, and do not change the child's personality.

It is important to talk to your doctor if no benefit is seen in 3-6 weeks, or if side effects occur.

2. Treatment with psychotherapy for the child and family:
Support for the child and family with psychotherapy is important, since many times parents mistakenly blame themselves for the child's problems or difficulties. The child has also become accustomed to perceiving things negatively. These negative ideas should change with the treatment to a more realistic view.

Where do we treat it?


The Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology of the
of the Clínica Universidad de Navarra

Through a multidisciplinary work, the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology assists patients in a comprehensive way: it identifies the main causes of the disease and provides an individual approach with the most appropriate and effective treatments. 

Thanks to the experience of its team, it is able to offer the most advanced biological therapies, as well as an adequate psychotherapeutic orientation. In this way, the patient is helped to solve both personality problems and alterations in interpersonal and family dynamics.

Organized in specialized units

Imagen de la fachada de consultas de la sede en Pamplona de la Clínica Universidad de Navarra

Why at the Clinica?

  • Integral evaluation of the patient.
  • Personalized diagnosis.
  • Multidisciplinary team.