Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Trying to Solve Depression in Children

aybala50's picture

The topic ofchildhood depression is an increasingly growing field of psychology because itis an increasingly growing problem that has no good solution. Treatment foradult depression includes many kinds of therapy, some neurological work, andmedication. Treating many problems adults have with medication has been mostuseful, but can we use the same medication that treats adults, on children? Studiesshow that antidepressants tested on both adult and juvenile animals showdifferent effects (Reed). This suggests that children should not use theantidepressants used by adults.  Thereason why children and adults react differently to antidepressants could bebecause their brains are in different developmental stages. This also meansthat children experience depression differently than adults. I would argue thatthe main reason for this is that while adults ‘learn’ how to react to differentemotions such as fear or anger, children, especially very young one’s, haven’tlearned the normal reactions, hence it would be harder to have specificsymptoms defining depression in children.

            Childhooddepression, like adult depression, is different from everyday blues. In factmany of the symptoms such as continuous feelings of sadness or hopelessness,social withdrawal, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep are commonsymptoms of childhood depression and adult depression (“Depression inChildren”).  It is harder todiagnose childhood depression rather than adult depression because thecharacteristics of depression vary very much amongst children. At a criticalstage of life, during childhood, many of the symptoms of depression can beperceived as just growing up by the people around the depressed child. If achild doesn’t have friends, this could either be because he has poor socialskills, or it could be because he is depressed and doesn’t have the motivationto try and make friends. It is easy to see how this confusion could occur. Thisis a reason why childhood depression should be studied more widely.

            About5% of children at any given time are clinically depressed. The depressionnaturally occurs during critical phases in development and shows itself withfeelings or behaviors not commonly associated with depression (Goldman).Depressive thoughts during childhood can become a part of a child’s developingpersonality. If untreated, childhood depression can affect school performance,social interaction and development of relationships, parent-child relations,and skill acquisition. It can also lead to adult problems such as depression,substance abuse, disruptive behaviors, violence and aggression, and evensuicide (Goldman). Childhood depression can really affect future healthydevelopment, hence it is important to treat this problem as soon as possible.

            Depressionin childhood is usually confounded by multiple disorders. Because of this thefirst step in treating a depressed child is diagnosing them correctly. It isimportant for the surrounding adults such as parents or teachers to watch forsigns that could be symptoms of childhood depression (Goldman). This can bedifficult because as we discussed in class, individuals perceive theirsurroundings, their emotions, their thoughts and feelings differently. Childrenespecially perceive the world differently because their perception is based onthe little information they know, while adults learn how to react to a sad,happy, or frustrating situation.

            Humanreactions to emotions they feel differ for every individual, but there aretrends. When a person feels sad because of a friends death they may cry, whensomeone receives a promotion they may jump in joy, but again these are alladult examples. What does a child do in the event of a death? Does the childunderstand what death is? In some cases the child is too young to realize thatwhen someone dies, they are gone forever. Because of this reactions to the newsdiffer drastically. Some children don’t react and possibly assume it’s not ofany importance, some children get confused as to where the deceased person is. Thisis just an example of how reactions differ amongst children precisely becauseof a lack of understanding. As children get older their reactions to emotionalevents become more similar to one and other, and by the time they are adultsemotional reactions have norms that are usually followed.

            Aspeople are realizing the importance of trying to treat childhood depressionbefore it affects the child’s developmental process further, it becomes moreapparent that it is more difficult to treat depression in children, than inadults. As I said earlier while many adults react similarly to emotionalsituations, children are more complicated. One of the reason’s why it isdifficult to treat children is because it is harder to diagnose them. Anotherreason why it is harder to treat children is because prescribing medication toyoung children is riskier, as the effects of the drugs on a developing brainare still not very clear.

            Childrenare the people in this world that need the most adult help, but adults are thepeople who have the hardest time understanding children. It is important thatresearchers continue studying children’s reactions to the everyday life tobetter understand them and possibly help them when needed. My next questionwould be, how connected exactly are the production of emotions to age, orknowledge? How can we figure out whether the absence of knowledge blocksemotion completely, or whether the absence of a response is merely because of aform of repression?


Bylund, DB and AL Reed. “Childhood and Adolescent Depression: Why do Children             andAdults Respond Differently to AntiDepressant Drugs?” Neurochemistry             International,2007. Oct;51(5):246-53. Epub 2007 Jun30. Review.               ezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPa            nel.Pubmed_RVDocSum(accessed April 11, 2009).


“Depression in Children.” 2009.                April11, 2009).


Goldman, William T. “Depression.” Keep Kids Healthy. 2009.               (accessedApril 11, 2009).


Paul Grobstein's picture

adult vs childhood depression

"while adults ‘learn’ how to react to different emotions such as fear or anger, children, especially very young ones, haven’t learned the normal reactions"

Its an intriguing idea that depression in adults more reflects learning about emotions than it does in children, and hence that both causes and therapies for depression might be different in the two cases.  To my knowledge, the notion of adult depression as reflecting some experience with emotions hasn't been widely considered.  What observations suggest it, does that predict significant differences between children and adults, and what observations might one look for to test such predictions ?