What is the youngest age you can get depression?
Depression in children and young people
It’s important to get help early if you think your child may be depressed. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to disrupt your child’s life and turn into a long-term problem.
Signs of depression in children
Symptoms of depression in children often include:
- sadness, or a low mood that does not go away
- being irritable or grumpy all the time
- not being interested in things they used to enjoy
- feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time
Your child may also:
- have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
- not be able to concentrate
- interact less with friends and family
- be indecisive
- not have much confidence
- eat less than usual or overeat
- have big changes in weight
- seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
- talk about feeling guilty or worthless
- feel empty or unable to feel emotions (numb)
- have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
- actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking an overdose
Some children have problems with anxiety as well as depression. Some also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.
Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and young people and so can problem behaviour.
Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.
Why is my child depressed?
Things that increase the risk of depression in children include:
- family difficulties
- physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- a family history of depression or other mental health problems
Sometimes depression is triggered by 1 difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.
Often it’s caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have a tendency to get depression and also experienced some difficult life events.
If you think your child is depressed
If you think your child may be depressed, it’s important to talk to them. Try to find out what’s troubling them and how they’re feeling.
Whatever is causing the problem, take it seriously. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.
If your child does not want to talk to you, let them know that you’re concerned about them and that you’re there if they need you.
Encourage them to talk to someone else they trust, such as another family member, a friend or someone at school.
It may be helpful for you to talk to other people who know your child, including their other parent.
You could also contact their school to ask if the staff have any concerns.
When to get medical help
If you think your child is depressed, or you’re concerned about their general wellbeing, make an appointment with them to see a GP.
If necessary, the GP can refer your child to a local children and young people’s mental health service (CYPMHS) for specialist help.
CYPMHS is used as a term for all services that work with children and young people who have difficulties with their mental health or wellbeing.
You may also be able to refer your child without seeing a GP.
If you need support during a mental health crisis or emergency, read about where to get urgent help for mental health.
If you’re worried about any aspect of your child’s mental health, you can call the charity YoungMinds’ free parents’ helpline for advice on 0808 802 5544 from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm.
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Page last reviewed: 2 April 2020
Next review due: 2 April 2023
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Anxiety and depression in children: Get the facts
Many children have fears and worries, and may feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears may appear at different times during development. For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. Although some fears and worries are typical in children, persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression. Learn about anxiety and depression in children.
- Anxiety and depression affect many children1
- 9.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 5.8 million) had diagnosed anxiety in 2016-2019.
- 4.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 2.7 million) have diagnosed depression in 2016-2019.
- “Ever having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression” among children aged 6-17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011–2012.
- “Ever having been diagnosed with anxiety” among children aged 6-17 years increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012.
- “Ever having been diagnosed with depression” among children aged 6-17 years did not change between 2007 (4.7%) and 2011–2012 (4.9%).
When children do not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include
- Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
- Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
- Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
- Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
- Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.
Occasionally being sad or feeling hopeless is a part of every child’s life. However, some children feel sad or uninterested in things that they used to enjoy, or feel helpless or hopeless in situations they are able to change. When children feel persistent sadness and hopelessness, they may be diagnosed with depression.
Examples of behaviors often seen in children with depression include
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
- Not wanting to do, or enjoy doing, fun things
- Showing changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
- Showing changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
- Showing changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
- Having a hard time paying attention
- Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
- Showing self-injury and self-destructive behavior
Extreme depression can lead a child to think about suicide or plan for suicide. For youth ages 10-24 years, suicide is among the leading causes of death 1 . Read about youth suicide prevention
Some children may not talk about their helpless and hopeless thoughts, and may not appear sad. Depression might also cause a child to make trouble or act unmotivated, causing others not to notice that the child is depressed, or to incorrectly label the child as a trouble-maker or lazy.
Treatment for Anxiety and Depression
The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider, such as your child’s primary care provider or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key; the school can also be included in the treatment plan. Consultation with a healthcare provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment.
If you need help finding treatment, visit MentalHealth.gov .
Managing Symptoms: Staying Healthy
Being healthy is important for all children, and can be especially important for children with depression or anxiety. In addition to getting the right treatment, leading a healthy lifestyle can play a role in managing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Here are some healthy behaviors that may help:
- Having a healthy eating plan centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), lean protein sources, and nuts and seeds
- Participating in physical activity each day based on age
- Getting the recommended amount of sleep each night based on age
- Practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques
At what age do people experience depression for the first time?
People are being diagnosed with depression at an earlier age than in the past because of increased openness to mental health disorders and improved diagnostic guidelines.
April 07, 2022
Depression can affect people over long periods of their lives. Some people experience this condition continuously, while for others, it occurs in episodes – with long stretches without symptoms.
But when do people tend to experience it for the first time?
The age when people experience depression for the first time is called the ‘age of onset.’
But this can be measured in different ways. One way is to find out when people first had the symptoms of depression. This is done by interviewing them about symptoms they have had in their lives so far – some people describe having symptoms in the past that meet the diagnostic criteria of depression. Another way is to find out whether people have been diagnosed with the condition, and the age when they were diagnosed with it for the first time.
This chart shows the age of onset of depression based on a meta-analysis by Marco Solmi and colleagues. The researchers combined data from studies that took place around the world. 1
As the data shows, on average, people experienced the symptoms of depression 5 years before they were diagnosed. When measured on the basis of symptoms, the median age of onset was 26. When measured on the basis of a diagnosis, the median age of onset was later, at 31 years old. The data also shows that there is a wide range for both symptoms and diagnosis. One quarter had not experienced symptoms before the age of 34. For diagnosis this was even later: one-quarter were not diagnosed before the age of 46.
People are diagnosed earlier than in the past
In many countries, mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are being diagnosed earlier than they were in the past. 2
We see clear evidence of this in the data in the chart.
This data comes from a study conducted in Denmark, which looked at the age when people were first diagnosed with mental disorders. They used data from across the population. 3
In 1996 the age of diagnosis varied widely. Young, middle-aged and old people all had a similar chance of being diagnosed with depression for the first time. By 2016, people were diagnosed much earlier. They were much more likely to be diagnosed with depression when they were young adults than later in their lives.
There are several reasons that this age distribution has shifted.
First, people have become more willing to seek treatment for mental health conditions. 4
Second, there are more guidelines on how to diagnose conditions in children and adolescents than in the past. In Denmark, children and adolescents have become more likely to be seen by professionals and screened for mental health conditions, and have regular check-ups for psychiatric symptoms at schools. 5
This means they are more likely to be diagnosed during their first episode of depression. In the past, they may have been diagnosed later – perhaps when they were actually having their second or third episode – or not diagnosed at all.
Our understanding of the age of onset of mental health disorders is important, because mental health screening and treatment are often guided by age. They are limited for young people in some countries. 6
By recognising that depression can occur early in life, we will have a greater ability to help those who need it.
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