Overview

Major depressive disorder is a severe episode of depression that tends to last from seven to nine months. A child with major depression experiences persistent, intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness that significantly impact her daily life and ability to function.

Symptoms

  • Unusual sadness, persisting even when circumstances change
  • Reduced interest in activities she once enjoyed; reduced feelings of anticipation
  • Involuntary changes in weight
  • Shifts in sleep patterns
  • Sluggishness
  • Harsh self-assessment (“I’m ugly. I’m no good. I’ll never make friends.”)
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

Treatment

Major depression is sometimes treatable with therapy alone, but experts agree that a combination of therapy and medication is usually the best approach.

Childhood and adolescent depression is often treated with interpersonal therapy (IPT), behavioral activation or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Medications combating depression are designed to increase the supply of certain neurotransmitters whose absence is linked to depression. These drugs include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are safe if properly managed. The FDA has decided that all antidepressants run the risk of encouraging suicidal thoughts, and they all carry warning labels. But the phenomenon is rare and has been tied only to suicidal ideation, not actual suicide attempts.