Bloomington / Normal, IL

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Depression in Children


By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt EMDR Trained

According to a study done by the Center for Disease Control, 3.2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression. Also according to the CDC, diagnoses of depression and anxiety are more common with increased age. Through the course of my career I have witnessed the powerlessness of parents whose children are depressed.

Because I’m convinced that parents in Central Illinois are invested in their children’s mental health, I’d like to help parents become more aware of how to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in children. If your child exhibits any of the symptoms below, my recommendation is to talk to your children about their mental health and also consider setting up an appointment to see a professional.

Childhood depression typically shows up in the following emotions:

  • Sadness  
  • Emptiness
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Worthlessness
  • Not being able to enjoy everyday pleasures

In terms of how childhood depression impacts your child’s thoughts, those can include struggles with the following:

  • Concentrating
  • Making decisions
  • Completing schoolwork
  • Maintaining grades

The physical symptoms that your child may be experiencing depression include:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Lack of energy/fatigue
  • Weight changes
  • Sleeping difficulties (either too much or too little)

These are the behaviors your child may exhibit if they are experiencing depression:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability    
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • No longer wanting to engage in hobbies, sports, or activities

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, make an appointment with a professional. The professional could be the school social worker, your pediatrician, or a local therapist/counselor. It’s also extremely important to have realistic conversations with your child about their mental health.

When I’m working with children or teens who have depression, some of the recommendations I make to parents include the following:

  • Decrease their overall stress: Mentally healthy people have more resilience than people who are struggling through depression. The more resilient we can make our children, the more they will be able to navigate and manage sadness, depression, anxiety, grief, loss, and stress.
  • Encourage creativity: We know that when people engage in being creative it engages the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for allowing us to feel safe, grounded, and comfortable.
  • Teach them to focus on gratitude: In his Brain Spect imaging work, Dr. Daniel Amen talks about how when people focus on three things that they are grateful for every day for three weeks, it improves the quality of their life. While gratitude isn’t a magical fix, it does help people to focus on something other than their depression.
  • Mood tracking: There are tons of mood trackers available for a variety of different cell phones. However, that’s not necessary to track their moods. Even something as simple as a notebook where they write down their moods, feelings, and emotions every day will be very helpful. Many times, people with depression feel like they’ve always been depressed and it will always feel this way. Mood trackers help them to keep their depressive feelings in proportion.

It’s important to understand that depression is much more than just a feeling of sadness or a bad mood. And young children may not be able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Children with depression need guidance and understanding from their parents and teachers.

Most parents feel that it’s their job to ensure the happiness of their kids. When your child is depressed, you may feel guilty because you can’t cheer him or her up, or you may think that your child is suffering because of something you did or didn’t do. This isn’t true. Depression can be frightening and frustrating for your child, you, and your entire family. But with the proper treatment and your help, your child can start to feel better and begin to enjoy life.

For help with any mental health issue, contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail

Their office is located at 202 N. Prospect, Suite 205 in Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to — or achieve, possibly for the first time ever — a state of complete mental wellness.