Depression and Depressive Disorders

What is Depression?

True depression is not the blues, sadness or even grief. It is a crushing despair so bad that people who have experienced it say that it is the worst pain they have ever gone through. Depression is not a weakness or a character flaw or a lack of how hard you work or how you think. It cannot be wished away.

Who gets Depression?

  • at any given time, almost three million Canadians have serious depression
  • depression is the fastest growing type of disability cost for Canadian employers
  • 10-15% of men and 15-25% of women have serious depression in their lifetime
  • major depression affects up to 10% of youth and often results in severe short-and long-term health problems

What causes Depression?

There is no single cause of depression. It is likely caused by a mixture of many things like:

  • family history and genetics
  • medical illnesses
  • certain medications
  • life events or stress
  • biological factors such as hormonal changes
  • psychological vulnerability - ways of thinking that make someone more likely to experience stress


What is disruptive dysregulation mood disorder (DDMD)?

All children and youth feel frustrated and angry from time to time. However, those with DDMD become easily irritated almost every day and have frequent angry outburst that are out of proportion for their age and situation.

Who gets DDMD?

  • Research on DDMD is still limited but researchers estimate that 2-5% of children have this disorder


How do I know it's Depression or a related disorder?

A child or youth may be diagnosed with depression if they have at least five of the following symptoms for two weeks or more:

  • loses interest in things they used to enjoy
  • feels sad, empty, hopeless, irritable or numb and starts crying for no reason
  • feels restless or slows down
  • feels guilty or worthless
  • changes in appetite, or weight loss or gain, or digestive problems
  • feels tired or exhausted
  • has trouble making decisions or concentrating
  • has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much
  • has thoughts about suicide

Depressive symptoms can also have a persistent, long-term nature. In such cases, a child or youth might have persistent depressive disorder.

Children and youth between the ages of 6 and 18 might be diagnosed with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, if, for at least a year, they

  • have frequent, strong temper outbursts at home, school, or with peers
  • and are generally irritable


What can go along with depression?

Often a child or youth who is depressed will have other disorders that also require treatment, such as:

A child or youth with depression is more likely to use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. About 30% of teens will develop alcohol or drug use problems along with depression. This can make depression more difficult to treat, increase the length of time before treatment works, and increase the risk of suicide. Early treatment for depression and practicing good communication can help prevent drug and alcohol problems.

Children and youth with depression are also at a higher risk for developing problems such as:

  • poor school or job performance
  • problems getting along with friends and family
  • physical illness



What can be done?

Depression can last a lifetime and may happen from time to time. Therapy will help identify the things that may cause depression. The sooner children and youth receive treatment, the stronger they will be when depression returns.

Treatment includes:

  • talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy)



  • a combination of both 

​To learn more about antidepressant medications, click here.

Tips for helping a child or youth with depression:

Learn about depression and seek help. If your loved one had heart disease or cancer, you'd learn about the signs and symptoms and find the best medical care. Many families refuse to recognize depression because of the shame attached to mental health challenges and disorders. They believe the problem will just go away and find excuses when the child feels sad or angry.

Tell the doctor making the diagnosis about your concerns. Children or youth with depression may feel so guilty and ashamed they are not likely to admit these feelings to others. They may tell the doctor it’s not happening or say it’s not bad.

Don’t try to reason the child out of negative feelings and beliefs. People in the depths of depression may not respond to reason. But if they talk about self -harm, they need to know you will get help. Sometimes depressed children need to be hospitalized, especially if they are out of touch with reality (psychotic) or having thoughts of suicide.

Make sure they take medications and attend counselling appointments, even if they feel better. A period of depression lasts an average of eight months. Never stop medication unless their doctor monitors the child or youth closely. A common cause of depression coming back is stopping treatment too soon.

Learn to recognize the early warning signs. 70% of children and youth with depression will experience it again within five years.

Help prevent depression with a balanced diet, physical activity, proper sleep patterns and a good social support system.

Take care of yourself

  • learn to separate your feelings from those of your child
  • try not to let your family life and work suffer
  • join a self-help group for advice, support and information on how to cope

Talk to your doctor and look for help from a mental health professional by:

For additional information about options for support and treatment in BC, visit the Finding Help section of our site.

Below you will find some key resources. A full list of resources are on the right hand side bar.

Depression Quick Reference Sheet
A list of the top websites, books, videos, toolkits and support services.

Dealing with Depression: Web Application for Teens
This mobile-optimized site is for teens experiencing low mood or depression, and helps teens understand and build skills to overcome depression.


BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.