Causes & Effects of Depression

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and get help for your child, teen, or young adult.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

Depression is not just a disorder experienced in adulthood; children and adolescents can also struggle with the often debilitating symptoms of this mental health condition. Depression, when it occurs in childhood and adolescence, is a serious medical problem that causes an individual to have persistent feelings of sadness and an overall loss of interest in things that he or she once enjoyed. A child with depression thinks, feels, and acts differently than he or she would on a normal basis. The distressing symptoms that accompany depression can become so overwhelming that it begins to affect all aspects of daily life.

Children and adolescents with depression will begin to develop emotional, functional, and physical problems. They may isolate themselves from the outside world, pulling further away from their family and friends. Their school performance may begin to decline, they may be unable to sleep at night, and they could start viewing the world as a dark, lonely place. However, with proper treatment and support, individuals can find relief from their depression and get back to living a life they enjoy.


Depression statistics

Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders and is believed to affect one in ten people in the United States. However, it is believed that only 52% of those suffering from a depressive disorder actively seek treatment. Research has shown that approximately one in every 33 children, and one in every eight adolescents, meets criteria for a formal diagnosis of depression.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

Depression does not have one single cause. Research conducted on this disorder has shown that both genetics and environmental factors play a role in its development. Additionally, physical factors have also been known to be a contributing factor. This means that some children are more likely to become depressed than others are. Some of the most common factors may include:

Genetic: Depression runs in families, and so those children and adolescents who have close relatives that have struggled with depression are twice as likely to develop this disorder themselves. It is estimated that about one-third to one-half of all depressed individuals are thought to have developed this disorder as a direct result of genetic factors.

Physical: If there are deficiencies or imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, then it can have a large effect on mood and emotions, potentially resulting in the onset of depressive symptoms.

Environmental: Growing up in stressful environments, being the victim of abuse, or losing a close loved one can all be triggers for the onset of depression. A person’s reaction to external factors affects the normal level and activity of the chemical messengers in the brain, which effects mood and emotions.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female (reports state that women are 70% more likely than men are to develop a depressive disorder throughout their lifetimes)
  • Family history of depression or other mental illness
  • Chronic health problems or chronic pain
  • Fluctuating hormone levels
  • Underlying general medical condition
  • Suffering from trauma
  • Chronic stress
  • Loneliness
  • Low socioeconomic status

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

When a child or adolescent is depressed, he or she will present with a number of signs and symptoms that typically include both emotional and behavioral changes. The specific symptoms will vary from person to person and will depend upon a number of other factors associated with each child or adolescent. While symptoms vary, there are some common signs and symptoms that include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Engaging in reckless behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities that one used to enjoy
  • Pacing, hand wringing, or unable to sit still
  • Crying spells for no reason
  • Poor school performance
  • Regularly missing school
  • Neglected appearance
  • Self-harm

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Chronic headaches
  • Unexplained body aches and pains
  • Digestive problems and stomachaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Psychomotor agitation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lapses in memory
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Indecisiveness
  • Slowed thinking

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in normally enjoyed activities
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and/or guilt
  • Fixating on past failures
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Experiencing self-loathing
  • Having the sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Negative or pessimistic thinking
  • Frequents thought or death or suicide


Effects of depression

While we all have times that we feel sad, there is a difference between these reactive mood disturbances and clinical depression. In addition to the usual debilitating symptoms, depression can have long-term effects on an individual’s health and in all areas of his or her life. If not properly treated, these symptoms can get worse and cause more destruction in an individual’s life. Some of the most common effects that can result from depression when not properly treated include:

  • Overall decline in mental and physical health
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Social isolation and not wanting to leave the house
  • Family difficulties
  • Loss of significant interpersonal relationships
  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Chronic pain
  • Increased anxiety, including panic attacks
  • Increased susceptibility to illnesses / weakened immune system
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for a child or adolescent who has been diagnosed with depression to be struggling with another mental health condition. The disorders that most often co-occur with depression include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Reactive attachment disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders

I feel so much happier and healthier after getting help at Millcreek of Pontotoc.

– A former patient