A child feeling depressed being comforted by a mother, illustrating what causes depression in children

What Causes Depression in Children?

Some people might say that children cannot suffer from depression as they do not have the same pressures and worries as adults. But children have their own problems which can trigger their depression.

Some common causes are family problems, divorce or separation, death or illness in a parent or close relative, harsh discipline or abuse at school or at home, exam fears, bullying and traumatic experiences like a fire or a burglary at home.

Many toddlers become very attached to the people who look after them. If they become separated from that person – even for a short while – they can become very anxious and upset.

These fears usually disappear as they get older, but if a parent or close relative dies or leaves for a significant period of time, their feelings of being abandoned can trigger depression.

Babies and toddlers can also develop depression if their mother – or primary career – also suffers from depression. There is some evidence that depression may be genetic and runs in families.

If the mother is suffering from depression – or does not have competent parenting skills – she may not be interacting effectively with her young child. This apparent lack of affection can trigger depression in the toddler.

When a child of any age sees their parents arguing or fighting this can make them feel insecure and they may feel as if they are to blame for the rows. They could also feel as if they have to take sides in the arguments, which is confusing and hurtful.

If the parents get divorced, this feeling of divided loyalties becomes more intense and children may fear being abandoned by both parents.

One parent may turn to the child for support and start to criticize the absent partner. This can make the child feel guilty for still loving the absent parent and their feelings can trigger depression.

Worries about school work and exams are well recognized as leading to depression. Depressed children often tend to be perfectionists and have very high standards for themselves.

They may feel that if they do not score highly in exams they are a ‘failure’ and so need to work even harder to achieve the results they want. This added pressure can make them feel they will never be ‘good enough’, leading to depression.

Bullying is a common cause of depression. Sometimes it can be difficult for parents to understand how upsetting bullying is when it is ‘only’ teasing or name calling. But it is very distressing for children and can lead to later problems in life.

Many adults who were bullied as children can develop depression, lack of self-confidence and feel anger towards the bullies and the adults who did not help them.

Many of these feelings of anxiety and depression are a normal part of growing up and dealing with different people and situations. So why don’t children just grow out of them?

‘Unless they are very resilient, children will not always be able to cope with their feelings,’ says Anna Olek. ‘An untreated problem does not go away and depressed children often end up as depressed adults.

‘But it is difficult to work out whether is just a phase or whether it needs treatment. If you are worried about your child, talk to them and make an appointment with your Children Pscyh if you think they need it.’