Diagnostic Criteria for Depressive Disorders in Children and Teens

Depressive disorders, while commonly associated with feeling sadness, encompass a more intricate realm of psychological states that extend across all age groups, including children and teens. A thorough understanding of the diagnostic criteria is imperative in accurately identifying and addressing these conditions. Due to its prevalence, educators and caregivers must cultivate knowledge of depressive disorders to facilitate evaluation and intervention.

Different Types of Depressive Disorders

There are three main types of depressive disorders in children and adolescents: minor depressive episodes, major depressive episodes, and dysthymic disorder. For a minor depressive episode, the child must exhibit between two and four symptoms for at least two weeks. These symptoms must also be severe enough to negatively impact the child’s everyday life by leading to distress or an inability to carry out activities. Major depressive episodes require the same criteria for a diagnosis but with five or more different symptoms.

Dysthymic disorder, also known as persistent depressive disorder, requires the presence of only two or more symptoms, but they must persist for a year with no more than two months symptom-free during that time frame. Children with this type of depression may not necessarily experience persistent mood changes all the time but still deal with long-term physical and mental effects.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 2.5 million children in the United States had a depressive disorder diagnosis from 2016-2019. These numbers continue to follow an upward trend over time. Many children with depression likely remain undiagnosed and without treatment. Recognition of depression‘s signs can prompt caregivers and educators to assess using professional tools like the (CDI 2) Children’s Depression Inventory, Second Edition.

The most common signs and symptoms of depression in children and adolescents include:

  • Appetite changes leading to weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in mood, including sadness, anger, or irritability
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities
  • Loss of energy or feelings of fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or low self-esteem
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Negative effects on psychomotor function

Many of these symptoms are normal when short-lived or easily recovered from. However, persistent changes lasting more than one to two weeks warrant an assessment.

Diagnosing Depression

Focused assessments are imperative in the diagnostic process when it comes to helping children and teens with symptoms of depression. Professionals consider other factors as well, including:

  • Verbal reports from teachers or parents
  • Preexisting health conditions and past medical history
  • Current medications (including dietary supplements)
  • Lifestyle and current environment or surroundings
  • Recent changes or major life events

Understanding the whole picture can lead to a more accurate diagnosis that addresses underlying factors and potential causes.

Help Students With Depressive Disorders Through WPS

Whether minor, major, or chronic, depression is a significant issue among kids and teens today that worsens over time into serious health, safety, and development issues without treatment. An accurate diagnosis starts with the proper assessment, and WPS has the tools to help. Learn more about how WPS can help students with various needs get the help they deserve.

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