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When Your Child is Depressed: Treatment Options for Parents

Child and adolescent depression are becoming significantly more common. According to a 2017 estimate by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration over 3 million children and adolescents reported having a major depressive episode – up more than 40% since 2004!


As a parent or caregiver, the increased chances of your child being affected cannot be ignored. Having an awareness of that higher likelihood is both good and necessary to help protect your child’s wellbeing.  

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Depression is much more than being sad. While an especially long, or deep bout of sadness is a hallmark of depression, and often the first thing a family member, teacher, or pediatrician may notice, it is not the full picture. Other aspects include:


  • disinterest or loss of pleasure in activities your child typically enjoys 

  • significant changes in weight (losses or gains)

  • sleep changes (much more or much less)

  • restlessness or irritability

  • low energy or fatigue

  • difficulty concentrating or with making decisions 

  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • thoughts of death or dying

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If you do notice some, most, or even all of these in your child there are A LOT of ways parents can help. For some children and adolescents with mild depression, a wait-and-see might be recommended by the pediatrician. For kids who just don’t seem to get back to their old selves, seek a consultation with a licensed mental health professional. 


Two specific therapy approaches with proven efficacy are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, patients learn how their thoughts, feelings, and actions interact with each other and how to develop healthier patterns of thinking and doing to promote improved mood. Interpersonal Psychotherapy, instead, focuses on how patients’ moods influence how they interact with their world and vice-versa. Both approaches have the potential to have a tremendous, and long-lasting, impact on depressive symptoms.

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Medication is also an effective tool for child and adolescent depression. Children and adolescents do not have quite the same range of FDA approved medications that adults might be prescribed, but the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors Prozac (generic: fluoxetine) and Lexapro (generic: escitalopram) are approved for use in children as young as 8 years old. As more research is conducted, the pool of available medications may widen. 


The combination of both therapy and medication is especially potent, particularly when considering the bigger picture. Research indicates that pursuing both approaches simultaneously can increase the speed at which children and adolescents recover, as well as reducing the likelihood of experiencing antidepressant side effects and future episodes of depression.

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There are any number of factors that a parent has to consider when making the decision about what the best route to get help. Luckily, you don’t have to make that decision alone. At The Family Center, we understand that every client has unique needs for their mental health care and how those needs fit into the bigger scheme of their life. We’re committed to helping you address those needs in the most effective way possible, whether it’s through the power of therapy, medication, or both.

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