Although there is variation depending on the studies, a commonly cited statistic is about 2% of pre-pubescent children and up to about 8% of adolescents meet the criteria for depression. The symptoms of depression can vary in both age and gender.
However, irrespective of age or sex, depression is always accompanied by changes in behavior or personality style. For example, if an outgoing child suddenly becomes withdrawn, or a passive child becomes combative, or a confident child suddenly acts shy, the child may be depressed.
A leading sign of depression in adolescent or teenaged boys is hostility or anger. In contrast, girls may display depression with changes that are more obvious. These include ready tears, evident sadness, and explicitly stating that they are depressed. Many children may appear emotionally normal but begin to complain of a wide range of physical symptoms. In addition, the child may appear lethargic, or complain of fatigue. If these symptoms are combined with either a marked reduction or increase in sleep time, depression is a possible cause.
In pre-adolescent kids, the signs include increased or decreased appetite, a sudden loss of interest in social activity or increases in self-deprecating statements. Since a depressed child will often begin to feel worthless or inadequate, he or she will tend to make comments about how worthless or hopeless they are – in extreme cases the child may even question the point of living at all. Such statements must be taken seriously and professional help must be enlisted as soon as possible.
A depressed child is one who is suffering a great deal and who can feel worthless and alone even in the midst of a loving family. It is best to offer patient support, while avoiding exhortations to "snap out of it" or "cheer up." Remember, if the child could make him or herself happy he or she would. Be patient and when in doubt, get the child help.