Major Depressive Disorder in Children

While everyone occasionally feels sad, these feelings will typically pass within a few days. When a person has major depressive disorder, they experience a severely depressed mood and activity level that persists two weeks or more. Their symptoms interfere with their daily functioning, and cause distress for both the person with the disorder and those who care about him or her.

The National Comorbidity Survey – Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) examines both dysthymic disorder and major depressive disorder together. These depressive disorders have affected approximately 11.2 percent of 13 to 18 year olds in the United States at some point during their lives. Girls are more likely than boys to experience depressive disorders. Additionally, 3.3 percent of 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a seriously debilitating depressive disorder.

Additional information about depressive disorders can be found on NIMH's depression page.


Major depressive disorder in children. Major depressive disorder/dysthymia.
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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) examines the national prevalence of depression each year through the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). NSDUH’s most recent data are for 2008 and show the prevalence of depression among 12 to 17 year olds in the United States to be 8.3 percent. The chart below shows this prevalence estimate, as well as those from the preceding 4 years. 


Prevalence of Depression Among U.S. Youth Ages 12 to 17 (2004 to 2008).
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Depression does not affect all demographic groups equally. Data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that among 13 to 17 year olds the prevalence of depression among girls is nearly 3 times as high as that for boys. Information from the NSDUH also shows that depression rates vary by age. Approximately 4 percent of 13 year olds experience depression, while rate increases to 11.6 percent among 16 year olds. 


Prevalence of Depression Among Youth by Sex and Age.
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