Anxiety and depression don’t affect only adults. From 2013 to 2019,
Anxiety and depression in children and adolescents may appear as:
- generalized anxiety
- separation anxiety
- panic disorder
- persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
- major depressive disorder
If your child has anxiety, they may experience uncontrollable and extreme fear with certain triggers. They may worry about the future or have intense attacks of fear that include a pounding heart and trouble breathing.
If your child has depression, they may feel sad and irritable a lot of the time. They may show changes in eating and sleeping patterns, lose interest in activities, or even engage in self-harm.
Children, like adults, can sometimes feel anxious and down. But unlike adults, children, particularly younger children, are not always able to express these feelings.
Children may not have developed enough self-awareness to pinpoint what they’re feeling. And sometimes, even when they sense that something is not right, they may not have the ability to put these feelings into words.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is expected to recommend that children as young as 8 years old be screened for anxiety. They’re also considering screening adolescents as young as 12 years old for depression.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms can help you spot the disorders earlier and offer support sooner.
Signs of anxiety
According to the
- excessive fears about family, school, friends, or activities
- worry about the future
- changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- physical symptoms such as stomachache, headache, muscle aches, or tension
- restlessness or irritability
- fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed
Signs of depression
- feeling sad and hopeless
- loss of interest in activities that were pleasurable
- changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- listless behavior and feeling fatigued
- loss of concentration
- feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
- thoughts of death or suicide
Mental health check-in with your child
When you spend time talking with your child, you give them the message that they are important to you. Here are some questions that can help you gain insight into their mental health:
- Who are your friends now? What do you do with them?
- What are you feeling? Give them a range of feelings, like happy, sad, angry, or frustrated.
- What do you think about before you fall asleep?
- What do you enjoy doing these days?
- Do you have stomachaches or headaches?
When diagnosing your child with anxiety or depression, your doctor will need to rule out other conditions that may present with similar symptoms. Below is a list of related conditions with symptoms that are similar to those of anxiety and depression:
- Panic disorder. Panic attacks are episodes of extreme fear that come for no apparent reason. Your child may react to these unexpected feelings of fear with shaking, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and feeling like they are dying.
- Social anxiety disorder. This is more than exaggerated shyness. Children with social anxiety disorder experience such intense anxiety in social settings that they choose to avoid them entirely.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can develop in children who have experienced trauma. Symptoms can include difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated.
- Bipolar disorder. This involves periods of intense lows that may include the symptoms of depression. Unlike with depression, however, people with bipolar disorder also experience periods of high moods.
If untreated, anxiety and depression can negatively affect your child’s social life and academic goals. This can lead them to drop out of school, use substances, have trouble with relationships, and even think about or attempt suicide.
According to the
Some doctors may prescribe medication to treat symptoms in children. Options include:
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- clomipramine (Anafranil)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
In rare cases, children, teenagers, and young adults
Talk with a doctor immediately if your child is having suicidal thoughts after starting a new medication.
Is your child having suicidal thoughts?
If your child or teenager is thinking about suicide, there are many suicide prevention resources that you can turn to for help.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to chat with a trained crisis counselor.
- Befrienders Worldwide offers resources for parents and young people all over the world.
- MY3 Support Network is an app for people experiencing thoughts of suicide. It offers resources, coping strategies, and a safety plan template.
In cases of immediate crisis, stay with your child and get help right away. Contact emergency services and let them know that your child is in crisis. They’ll direct you to the proper support in your area.
The following types of therapy can complement medication:
- Play, art, and drama therapy. This can help younger children who may be unable to express their feelings directly.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This approach is effective in older children. CBT can help your child replace negative thoughts with more positive, effective ways of thinking. This can lead to more effective behavior.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). According to 2015 research, this uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques to help children learn to live in the moment. Children also learn to stop self-judging and, in this way, cope with unwanted thoughts or behaviors.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be part of CBT or stress reduction.
Research from 2015shows that mindfulness can help with anxiety disorders in youth.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy. This approach can help your child communicate better with others and works to resolve relationship issues that lead to depression or anxiety.
- E-therapy. According to a
2019 study, e-therapy involves computerized treatment programs. These involve the child completing 10 to 12 computerized CBT sessions, with some additional sessions for parents.
For more information on herbal remedies, other complementary approaches, and current research, you can visit the
Lifestyle factors are a promising avenue for helpful treatments for depression and anxiety. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine defines six core features of a healthy lifestyle:
- doing regular physical activities
- eating a diet with plenty of whole foods and plants
- getting restorative sleep
- managing stress
- avoiding substance use
- making positive social connections
How to find help
As a parent, you may find yourself needing support through what might be a difficult time for your child. Many resources are available to help you find the support you need to help your child.
Possible risk factors for anxiety and depression include:
- Age. A
2021 studyshowed that as children move into adolescence, they are at a greater risk of developing anxiety and depression.
- Gender. An older study showed that starting around ages
13 to 15, girls are twice as likely as boys to show signs of depression.
- Race and Ethnicity. According to a
2010 review, children who are not non-Latinx whites are at a higher risk of anxiety and depression. This may be due to disparities in the health care system.
- Overall health. A 2020 study suggests children with chronic or severe medical conditions are more likely to be depressed.
- Hormonal imbalance.
Research from 2017shows that imbalances of certain chemicals or hormones, including cortisol, may increase the risk of depression.
Research from 2017shows that children with sensitive temperaments, early life stress, and parents with mood disorders may have an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
COVID-19 and anxiety and depression in children
Research from 2021shows that the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic doubled. The rates were higher when collected later in the pandemic, in older adolescents, and in girls.
According to 2019 research, prevention of anxiety and depression in children should begin at an early age. A 2020 study suggests that developing social, emotional, and cognitive skills is key to preventing anxiety and depression.
The following steps can help parents and caregivers prevent anxiety and depression in children:
- Teach your child to speak about their feelings and to label them.
- Keep your expectations realistic.
- Respect your child’s feelings.
- Create regular daily routines where possible.
- Model healthy eating and sleeping habits.
Can very young children get anxiety or depression?
Yes, preschoolers can also get anxiety and depression. A 2017 review estimated that
Will my child’s anxiety or depression go away?
Yes. With early intervention, a combination of therapy and medication, and support from loved ones, most children can learn to manage their anxiety and depression. For some children, anxiety and depression may remain lifelong conditions.
Can I pass my anxiety or depression on to my child?
It’s important to remember that just because you have anxiety and depression does not mean your children will develop it. Depression has plenty of causes.
All children can become anxious and sad at times, but prolonged and intense feelings of anxiety or sadness may indicate more than just a bad day. By recognizing the signs of anxiety and depression, you can help your child get a diagnosis and the right treatment.
While it may seem overwhelming at first, the journey you travel together toward coping and healing may be one of the most meaningful journeys of your lives.