Depression is a disorder that affects roughly 5.4% of Canadians each year, reports the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Meanwhile, approximately 20% of Canadian youth have a mental health disorder. However, diagnosing depression in children and youth can be challenging since they tend to express different signs and symptoms than adults. Learn more below.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by a persistent loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and a pervasive depressed mood that impairs daily functioning and reduces the quality of life.

Incredibly complex, depression results from overlapping and often difficult to separate factors. Factors that can increase the potential of developing depression include:

  • A family history of depression
  • Personal temperament (e.g., a tendency towards low moods, social isolation)
  • Early adverse childhood events (e.g., abuse, neglect, loss of a caretaker)
  • Chronically elevated stress levels
  • Certain medications (e.g., the antiviral drug “interferon-alpha,” corticosteroids, and acne treatments like isotretinoin)
  • Recent major life transitions
  • Underlying mental health conditions
  • Experiencing a severe accident or illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Gender (In Canada, the prevalence of depression in women is 5.8%, as opposed to 3.6% for men)

These risk factors for depression are consistent regardless of age and can trigger the development of depression for adolescents and adults.

Depression in Adults

Everyone feels blue from time to time, but that sadness may only last a few days or a week. Depression, on the other hand, is a mood disorder characterized by a loss of interest in activities you used to love, paired with a deep and aching melancholy that disrupts daily life.

While symptoms vary by type of depression and age group, symptoms typically include:

  • Low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
  • A profound sense of hopelessness and sadness
  • Dark moods
  • Isolating and withdrawing from friends
  • Feeling drained of energy
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Thinking about self-harm and suicide

Types of Depressive Disorders

Many people think of depression as one disorder, but there are quite a few types of depressive disorders, each with its own signs and symptoms.

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression
  • Depressive Psychosis
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

The most common depressive disorder among adults is Major Depressive Disorder, which many call chronic or classic depression.

Depression in Children

Diagnosing depression in younger people can be challenging. We all experience deep sadness now and then, but where adults can identify the telltale signs of depression and communicate them, children aren’t always able to. For this reason, care providers often turn to behavioural patterns to diagnose depression in youth, which occurs at a rate of roughly 3.2%, according to the CDC.

Signs of depression in adolescents can include:

  • Often feeling sad, irritable, or hopeless
  • Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in energy levels and motivation – shows a lot more fatigue and sluggishness, or is alternatively restless and tense
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty maintaining focus
  • Self-injury or a pattern of self-destructive behaviour

Younger children may be inclined to express their emotions through anger or irritability, whereas adults often appear more withdrawn, defeated, and fatigued. Additionally, children may experience depression through physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches.

For teenagers – social withdrawal, academic decline, and extreme sensitivity to criticism can also point to the beginnings of depression.

Similarities in Adult and Childhood Depression

The main distinction between depression for adults and adolescents is how they experience and communicate their symptoms. Where adults speak to the energy-zapping loss of pleasure accompanying depression, children often act out in anger and experience physical aches.

Depression may feel different and come from unique combinations of our physiologies and environments, but it can be similar across age groups. The words we use to describe it may be different, but depression’s effect remains the same, regardless of age.

Fortunately, many of the treatments that work for adults also help children move through depression and big feelings.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) stands as one of the most effective therapies in treating mood disorders. CBT is a “talk therapy” that helps people challenge how they think, so they can reduce reactivity and learn to reframe thoughts and design more helpful habits and behaviours. For young children, therapy may also be played out via art, toys, or role-playing.

Because mood disorders, like depression, usually feature a complex web of negative belief systems intertwined with chemical imbalances in the brain, care professionals may pair therapies like CBT with medications (this of course depends on the age group).

A final key difference – where medications like tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs, SNRIs, and MAOIs are commonplace for treating depression in adults, not all are effective or safe for adolescents. If an adolescent is suffering from moderate to severe depression and therapy alone is not working, medication may be worth exploring as an adjunctive treatment. To learn more, your therapist may advise you to speak with your family physician or pediatrician.

If you’re seeking support for yourself or a loved one in finding relief from depression, Bhatia Psychology Group is a click away. Reach out to us today to speak with one of our compassionate and experienced care professionals.


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