Sadness and Depression

Most children feel sad or down occasionally. But if a child’s sadness continues for weeks at a time or is making it difficult for him to manage everyday activities and relationships, it may be a sign of a serious condition and an evaluation may be needed.


Checklist of Symptoms

Below is a list of symptoms that children who have problems with sadness may show.

  • Often seems sad, depressed, and/or bored
  • Frequent tearfulness or crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem or guilt
  • Increased irritability, anger or hostility
  • Shows less interest in activities that he usually enjoys
  • Seems to spend less time with friends and has less interest in relationships
  • Seems to have less energy than usual
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping habits (either sleeping/eating much more or much less than usual)
  • Difficulty concentrating or decline in school performance
  • Frequently complains of headaches or stomachaches
  • Talks about suicide or hurting himself

If a child’s symptoms of sadness occur following the loss of a loved one, his emotions may be a normal part of the grieving process. However, if a child’s sadness persists for an extended period of time or is negatively affecting his functioning and relationships, it may mean that his grief has turned into something more serious that requires professional attention.


Possible Diagnoses or Explanations of Behavior

Below are some possible explanations and common diagnoses that may cause feelings of sadness in children. Click on the disorder name to learn more about it from the A-Z Disorder Guide provided by the NYU Child Study Center.

Depression

Approximately 5 percent of children and adolescents experience depression. This disorder can lead to poor school performance, social isolation, relationship problems, self-harm or (in extreme cases) suicide. There are effective treatments available for depression and it is important to seek treatment if you think your child may be suffering from this disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a type of depression in which children go through periods of being very depressed followed by periods of high energy, overactivity, and/or extreme irritability.

 

For answers to students' frequently asked questions (FAQs) about depression, click here.

 

 

Learn about Evalulation and Treatment of mental health problems among children.


There is a strong link between teen depression and suicide.  To learn more, visit:

About Teen Suicide (KidsHealth - for parents)

Suicide (KidsHealth - for teens)

Help Stop Teen Suicide (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Suicide: A major preventable mental health problem (National Institute of Mental Health)

 

Sources

Information provided on this website about common emotional and behavioral problems experienced by children is drawn from sources including:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Boston Bar Association. (2009). The Parents' How-to Guide to Children's Mental Health Services in Massachusetts (2nd edition). Boston: Author.  URL:http://www.bostonbar.org/theguide/bba_theguide_jan2009.pdf. Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5ur8YAB1Z)

Klimkeit, E. I., Mattingley, J. B., Sheppard, D. M., Farrow, M., Bradshaw, J. L. (2004). Examining the Development of Attention and Executive Functions in Children with a Novel Paradigm. Child Neuropsychology, 10 (3), 201-211.

NYU Child Study Center. A-Z Disorder Guide. URL:http://www.aboutourkids.org/families/disorders_treatments/az_disorder_guide. Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5ur83VhUw)

 

Date Reviewed: May 31, 2011