Childhood Depression: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a child or teen to feel sad or irritable for a long period of time. A young person who is depressed may not enjoy school, play, or friends. He or she may also sleep more or less than usual, lose or gain weight, and be withdrawn.

Depression may run in families. It is linked to a chemical problem in the brain. The chemical problem can be caused by medicines, illness, or stress. Events that cause great stress, such as moving or the loss of a loved one, can trigger it.

Depression can last for a long time. It may come in cycles of feeling down and feeling normal. It is important to know that all forms of depression can be treated.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Offer your child support and understanding. This is one of the most important things you can do to help your child cope with being depressed.
  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if your child has any problems with his or her medicine. It is important for your child to keep taking medicine for depression even after symptoms go away, so that it does not come back. Your child may need to try several medicines before finding the one that works best. Many side effects of the medicines go away after a while. Talk to your doctor about any side effects or other concerns.
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep. There are things you can do if he or she has problems sleeping.
    • Have your child go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep his or her bedroom dark and free of noise.
    • Do not let your child drink anything with caffeine after 12:00 noon.
    • Do not give your child over-the-counter sleeping pills. They can make his or her sleep restless. They may also interact with depression medicine.
  • Make sure your child gets regular exercise, such as swimming, walking, or playing vigorously every day.
  • Avoid over-the-counter medicines, natural health products, and any medicines that have not been prescribed by your doctor. They may interfere with the medicine used to treat depression.
  • Feed your child healthy foods. If your child does not want to eat, it may help to encourage him or her to eat small, frequent snacks rather than 1 or 2 large meals each day.
  • Encourage your child to be hopeful about feeling better. Positive thinking is very important in treating depression. It is hard to be hopeful when you feel depressed, but remind your child that recovery happens over time.
  • Find a counsellor your child likes and trusts. Encourage your child to talk openly and honestly about his or her problems.
  • Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on or near your phone. To find a suicide prevention crisis centre in your province, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention webpage at If you or someone you know talks about suicide or feeling hopeless, get help right away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child makes threats or attempts to hurt himself or herself or another person.
  • You are a young person and you feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child hears voices.
  • Your child has depression and:
    • Starts to give away his or her possessions.
    • Uses illegal drugs or drinks alcohol heavily.
    • Talks or writes about death, including writing suicide notes and talking about guns, knives, or pills. Be sure all guns, knives, and pills are safely put away where your child cannot get to them.
    • Starts to spend a lot of time alone.
    • Acts very aggressively or suddenly appears calm.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if your child has any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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