Recognizing Depression and Anxiety in Kids

Recognizing Depression and Anxiety in Kids

This article is for parents and caregivers of children who are 6 to 18 years old, or anyone who wants to learn more about depression and anxiety in school-aged children. The goal of this activity is to help you talk to and work with your child's doctor and healthcare team about depression and anxiety.

You will learn about:

  • Your child's mental well-being

  • What depression and anxiety are and their symptoms

  • Depression and anxiety in children and who may be at risk

  • Talking to your child's doctor and healthcare team and questions to ask

Test Your Knowledge

Your Child's Mental Well-Being

Your child's mental well-being is important. It can help them achieve or reach important milestones and learn valuable social skills and ways to cope. Their mental well-being can greatly affect their quality of life and impact their daily activities, how they function at home and in school, and their relationships with family and friends.

Like some adults, some children may be living with conditions that can affect their mental well-being, such as depression and anxiety. But recognizing these conditions and working with your child's doctor and healthcare team can help.

What Is Depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that causes someone to have feelings of sadness that won't go away and lose interest in things they used to enjoy.

Everyone can feel down once in a while, and occasionally being sad can be a part of every child's life. But with depression, symptoms happen most of the day and nearly every day for 2 weeks or more.

Depression can affect how someone feels, thinks, and acts and can lead to emotional and physical problems. For many kids, symptoms can be bad enough to cause problems with their daily activities.

What Depression in Children Can Look Like

In addition to feeling sad, symptoms of depression or behaviors can include:

  • Being restless, angry, or frequently irritable

  • Mood swings or frequent crying

  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy

  • Pulling away from friends and activities

  • Sleep problems, tiredness, lack of energy

  • Eating a lot more or a lot less than usual

  • Trouble paying attention or concentrating

  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless, or guilty

  • Refusing to go to school, getting in trouble, or a change in grades

  • Headaches, stomachaches

  • Being self-destructive, hurting themselves, or having thoughts of death or hurting themselvesĀ 

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety, or anxiety disorder, is when someone has too much worry and fear that's very strong, lasts, and happens frequently. These feelings can be hard to control and are often bigger than the actual situation or danger.

For most people, occasionally feeling anxious or worried can be a part of life. And like adults, many children can have worries and fears from time to time. But when typical fears and worries last, get worse, or interfere with daily activities, it may be an anxiety disorder.

In addition to feeling worried or afraid, symptoms of anxiety or behaviors children may have can include:

  • Being irritable or angry

  • Trouble sleeping, tiredness

  • Headaches, stomachaches

Who May Be at Risk for Depression or Anxiety?

Boys and girls can be living with depression and/or anxiety alone or at the same time, at any age. The exact reason why one or both conditions may develop is not always known, but there are factors that may increase the risk, such as trauma, stress, or having a parent who is living with depression or anxiety.

Similar to adults, causes for depression and/or anxiety can include a combination of a child's physical health, life events, environment, genetics (traits passed on from parents), and how their brain and brain chemicals work.

Recognizing Depression and Anxiety in Kids

Depression and anxiety can be different for different kids, and not all children will have all symptoms. Some may even have different symptoms at different times.

With certain children, it may be hard to tell if they're having symptoms. Some kids can be good at hiding problems they may be having or may not be able to tell you exactly how they're feeling. But being aware of the symptoms and of factors that may increase the chances of depression or anxiety can help.

Talking to your child's doctor and healthcare team about their mental well-being is important and is the first step to getting care.

Talking to Your Child's Doctor and Healthcare Team

Having open and honest communication with your child's doctor and healthcare team is key. You can discuss whether an evaluation to diagnose depression or anxiety may be recommended and any next steps. They may also recommend your child visit other healthcare team members, such as a mental well-being professional.

You and your doctor can develop a plan that's tailored to fit your child's individual needs. Having good mental well-being is important for all kids. Together, you and your child's healthcare team can help them have the best quality of life possible.

Questions to Ask

Questions you can ask your child's doctor and healthcare team about depression and anxiety can include:

  • Is there a way to know if my child may be at risk for depression and/or anxiety?

  • Are there symptoms we can look for?

  • How will my child be diagnosed?

  • Are there other conditions that may be causing symptoms?

  • If my child is diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety, what treatments are available and what are their side effects?

  • Are there any lifestyle changes we should make?

  • Are there other healthcare team members we should see?

  • What should I do if my child or I feel stressed?

  • Is there a support group I can join?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program Recognizing Depression and Anxiety in Kids.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Children's Mental Health

What Is Children's Mental Health?

Anxiety and Depression in Children

National Help Line

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


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