Causes & Effects of Depression

No one experiences depression the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of depression is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Depression

Learn about depression

Everyone experiences periods in their lives where they struggle with feelings of sadness and hopelessness. There are some individuals, however, who experience these feelings to such an extreme that it begins to drastically impair their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis. Individuals in these circumstances are likely suffering from depression and, while this is a mental health condition that is most commonly thought to affect adults, it can also, sadly, afflict children and adolescents as well.

When young people are plagued by symptoms of depression, all areas of their lives can be negatively impacted. These children and adolescents struggle with pervasive feelings of worthlessness that leave them with a deteriorated self-esteem and feeling helpless to change, as well as hopeless about what their futures may hold if their symptoms persist. Youth with depression tend to have difficulty performing adequately in school, maintaining obligations at home, and interacting appropriately in social settings. Additionally, and more tragically, when young people continuously struggle with depressive disorders and are denied access to treatment, they are at an elevated risk of experiencing suicidal ideation, and potentially making attempts at suicide. Furthermore, these children and adolescents often engage in self-harming behaviors in an attempt to find control over something physical because they cannot control their inner pain.

However, it is important to know that effective treatment options are available that can help children and adolescents successfully overcome their symptoms of depression, develop the skills needed to appropriately manage future stresses in a healthy manner, and ultimately find joy in life once again.


Depression statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 3% of children meet diagnostic criteria for depression. Further research has indicated that, in regards to adolescents, nearly 13% of youth in this stage of development suffer from symptoms synonymous with depressive disorders. Sadly, however, the CDC also reports that only an estimated 50% of young people who are suffering from depression receive the appropriate treatment needed to properly address their symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for depression

Researchers in the field of psychology have concluded that the onset of depression is not the result of one specific cause, but rather is a result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and physiological factors working together. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Depression is one of many mental health conditions that is known to run in families, suggesting a strong hereditary component. When children and adolescents have first-degree, blood relatives who are struggling with depressive disorders, they are at a heightened risk of developing this illness at some point in their lifetimes as opposed to those who do not share similar family histories.

Physical: Serotonin and dopamine are two chemicals in the brain that play a major role in the regulating of one’s mood. Neurobiological studies have shown that when these chemicals become imbalanced, individuals are hindered in their ability to respond in emotionally healthy ways to various situations. Being denied this capability can elicit the onset of symptoms of depression.

Environmental: A number of environmental factors can potentially play a role in the development of depression in a child or adolescent. Young people who are exposed to chronic stress and turmoil over which they have no control may begin experiencing feelings of helplessness that can ultimately result in the onset of depression. Additionally, youth who are the victims of abuse or neglect are at a heightened risk of suffering from depression, as are those who are deprived of strong parental involvement and healthy support networks.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of depression
  • Family history of other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • Experiencing a sudden, major life change
  • Lacking appropriate coping skills
  • Suffering the loss of a loved one
  • Being abused and/or neglected
  • Suffering from a low self-esteem
  • Lacking a strong support network

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression

The signs and symptoms that may indicate that a young person is suffering from depression will inevitably vary from child to child. Many factors can affect the type and severity of symptoms that a youth exhibits, including things such as the child’s age, the support that the child has available to him or her, and the child’s individual temperament can all impact the way in which symptoms present. Examples of various signs and symptoms that may be displayed by a child or adolescent who is suffering from depression may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drop in academic performance
  • No longer participating in activities one once enjoyed
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • School refusal
  • Refusing to get out of bed
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Crying spells
  • Angry, unprovoked outbursts
  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities and obligations

Physical symptoms:

  • Excessive lethargy
  • Persistent headaches or migraines
  • Bodily aches and pains
  • Digestive issues
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Injuries resulting from self-harming behaviors

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lacking the ability to concentrate or focus
  • Slowed thinking patterns
  • Slowed speaking
  • Memory impairment
  • Lacking the ability to make rational decisions
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Lacking a sense of self-worth
  • Pervasive feelings of hopelessness
  • Pervasive feelings of helplessness
  • Feeling overly-critical of oneself
  • Heightened levels of anxiety
  • Inexplicable, unwarranted feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of depression

When the symptoms of depression are left unaddressed, there can be countless negative ramifications in an individual’s life. Examples of the potential long-term consequences that can result from untreated depression can include:

  • Experiencing the onset of symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Experiencing the onset of physical health problems
  • Chronically engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Impaired academic functioning / academic failure
  • Missing an excessive amount of school
  • Withdrawing or isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Pervasive feelings of worthlessness
  • Starting to use and abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Engaging in other types of self-destructive behaviors
  • Suffering from chronic, intrusive thoughts of suicide
  • Making suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who have depression to battle symptoms of other mental illnesses as well. Some of the most common disorders known to co-occur alongside depression include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Separation anxiety
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
What Past Clients Say

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to DBI and get help when I did. I will forever be grateful for the experience and all that I learned during my stay there.

– A former client