Risk Factors to Explore When Diagnosing Depression in Children and Teens

Depression is a widespread issue in the United States that affects people of all ages. Approximately five million adolescents aged 12 to 17 grapple with at least one major depressive episode in 2021 alone. This condition can seriously impair a child’s health, wellness, and overall quality of life without proper treatment. While every kid is unique, understanding who is most at risk for developing major depression can give caregivers and educators vital tools to support this demographic.

depression in children

Risk Factors for Adolescent Depression

The human experience is profoundly individualistic for each child. Adversities that might be surmountable for one can prove to be profoundly debilitating for another. Even so, children and teens with depression often exhibit one or more risk factors of the below demonstrated by this mental health issue. If a child or student under your care falls into one or more of these categories, it may be prudent to have them screened or assessed for depression. The (CDI 2) Children’s Depression Inventory, Second Edition, is an excellent tool for this task.

Biological Factors

Genetics, a cornerstone of mental and emotional well-being, can influence depression. A family history of depression makes it more likely for a child or teenager to develop this condition. Genetic factors can affect several areas that impact mood, from hormone levels to the number of functioning neuron receptors and transmitters in the brain. Females are also more than twice as likely to develop depression as males.

Life Experiences

The imprint of past trauma looms as a formidable risk factor for the onset of depression. Resonating most profoundly among individuals who have endured traumatic events during their formative years. These traumatic incidents encompass an array of experiences like:

    • The death or absence of a loved one
    • Physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional abuse
    • Neglect from caregivers
    • Serious illness or injury
    • Parental divorce
    • Being bullied or discriminated against
    • Living in poverty or unsafe conditions

These experiences can lead to developmental delays in children and adolescents.

Preexisting Health Conditions

Poor health can contribute to an increased risk of depression in people of all ages. The problem does not necessarily have to result from a specific disease process. For example, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to new or worsening depression in children. Chronic health conditions not conventionally associated with mental health, such as diabetes or cancer, can have a similar effect. Furthermore, medications targeting non-mental health ailments can influence mood.

Cognitive and Behavioral Issues

Children and teenagers with cognitive differences—learning disorders, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention deficit disorders—are more at risk for depression. The cumulative stressors of school, certain social situations, or the broader challenges associated with learning can compound these issues. Notably, kids and teens with a propensity toward engaging in risky or destructive behaviors, like smoking, are also more likely to develop depression.

Screen At-Risk Youth for Major Depressive Disorder With WPS

There is hope for America’s youth. A prompt diagnosis can help kids receive the treatment they need to not only manage their depression but thrive. Explore WPS resources to help kids in school at risk for depression on this collective mission of healing and support.


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