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Depression in children

2-minute read

The effect of stress during pregnancy and its effect on foetal development are still being assessed.

Depression in infancy is uncommon, although the chance of depression in childhood will be increased if parents are very uncaring to the child (or, to a lesser extent, overly controlling and overprotective).

Depression in the years leading up to puberty is much more common and may be linked to family difficulties, birth of a sibling, or an impact on the child's social ties such as a move to a new house or school.

If your child has symptoms of depression, it's best to seek professional help. Many depressed children go on to have further episodes of depression; however, those with mild depression related to a significant stressful event have a good rate of recovery.

Common signs of depression among children in the years up to puberty can include:

  • a prolonged sad mood
  • a loss of interest in normal activities such as playing and games
  • withdrawal both at home and school
  • uncharacteristic behaviour such as stealing or bullying
  • tiredness, particularly in the afternoon
  • sleep disturbance
  • bed wetting

Where to get help for your child

See your doctor first or your local community health centre. Community health centres are also listed in the phone book under 'Community health centres'.

Your doctor may refer your child to a private psychiatrist who is accredited in child and adolescent psychiatry or to a specialist child or adolescent mental health service provided through the public health system.

You could also speak to the guidance officer or counsellor at your child's school.

Other specialists who provide help for children are paediatricians and child psychologists. Your doctor or local community health centre should be able to advise you on these.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2018

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