Not only adults, but also teenagers and even children can suffer from depression. Recognizing these early can save lives. Because suicide is the second most common cause of death among young people. What parents need to know and why the topic belongs in the curricula.

If children or young people seem sad, withdraw, no longer feel like doing sports, or sleep poorly, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an illness. However, sometimes symptoms like these are a warning sign that should not be ignored. Even very young people can suffer from depression.

Mild depressive moods to severe depressive disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in children and adolescents.

According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, from 2011 to 2021, mental illnesses overtook injuries and poisonings as the most common cause of inpatient treatment among children and adolescents. The most common mental illness among children and adolescents was depression: In 2021, hospitals treated around 21,900 10- to 17-year-olds as inpatients for so-called depressive episodes.

However, depression is often overlooked, especially in older children and adolescents, because it can be difficult to differentiate between normal development in adolescence and depression. After all, mood swings, irritability, boredom or withdrawal are also part of puberty.

Gerd Schulte-Körne, professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, points out in an interview with FOCUS online that many parents would believe that their children’s bad mood and their withdrawal would disappear on their own. Mental illnesses are still stigmatized. However, attention should be paid to real symptoms:

“When a pet or a loved one dies, it’s completely normal to feel sad. Depression is when several things come together, most of which are inexplicable – and when they persist over a period of more than two weeks. You can no longer reach the child; he withdraws more and more. The mood is bad, activities become less, eating becomes significantly more or less, poor sleep,” explains the psychiatrist.

According to the German Depression Aid Foundation, other symptoms of depression in children and adolescents include:

In preschool age up to six years:

At school age:

During puberty and adolescence:

About six percent of all 10 to 17 year olds suffer from depression. On average, there are one or two people affected per school class. These numbers make it clear that depression is much more common in young people than most adults imagine. And they also show why it is important that not only parents know the most important warning signs, but that teachers also receive appropriate training.

“The challenge for society is to recognize that depression is not just an issue for adults,” emphasizes Schulte-Körne. “Depression is common, you shouldn’t be afraid to use the health system. Look, address and act – everyone is part of it. Teachers, family doctors and pediatricians must recognize children’s psychological problems at an early stage. It still happens that parents come and ask not to diagnose depression because they expect negative consequences for their children.”

What do people in Germany get sick with? In a major focus area, FOCUS provides online information about the four major widespread diseases

We shed light on the medical background surrounding causes, symptoms, risk factors and treatment options. At the same time, we show you what you can do for each illness to minimize the risk.

In case histories, one affected person also reports on their life with cancer, heart disease, dementia or depression – moving, sometimes sad, but always encouraging.

For this reason, more and more experts say that the topic of depression belongs in school curricula. Because information is the first and most important step in catching those affected at an early stage and signaling to them that they do not have to remain alone with their illness:

“Almost every person will come into contact with depression in the course of their life – be it through their own illness or as a member of their family or friends,” says Ulrich Hegerl, Chairman of the German Depression Aid and Suicide Prevention Foundation. “Because of the frequency and severity of the disease, the topic of depression belongs in school curricula, similar to addictions.”

There are now various foundations and initiatives that start exactly here. For example, FIDEO, an exchange platform on depression in young people, offers a free “Depression School Box” that contains information and posters and is intended to support teachers in designing a teaching unit on the topic of depression.

The German Depression Aid Foundation is currently working on developing online training for teachers in order to better recognize signs of depressive moods in students. The project is funded by the TRIBUTE TO BAMBI Foundation.

The Tribute to Bambi Foundation supports aid projects for children and young people in Germany all year round and also draws attention to grievances and issues that are not sufficiently noticed in society – in order to give a voice to those who are otherwise not heard. The aim is to provide concrete and sustainable help to children and young people in need and to help improve their situation in the long term.

With the support of prominent personalities, partners from business and the media, companies and private individuals, donations are collected and effective projects are promoted and supported in the media. The foundation bears the renowned DZI donation seal.

If you would like to support the foundation with a donation, you can do so here.

Like, the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation” belongs to the Hubert Burda Media group.

If children or young people suspect depression in themselves or those around them, the video tutorial “Alles Gut?!” from the German Depression Help Center is a valuable point of contact. Here, several short video clips explain what depression is, how you can recognize it and how you can help yourself or others.

Knowledge, attention and sensitive questions can save lives. Particularly for young people, looking away should not be an option, as suicide is the second most common cause of death among young people.

“The outlook for some children is very bleak,” says Jakob Kalinowsky, head of the anonymous online advice service “JugendNotmail”. “Then it’s really difficult to get out and live a happy life without help. The children need to be cared for more quickly. Otherwise, depressive moods become depression. We are challenged every day.”

In recent years, inquiries on the portal have increased significantly. Almost 40 percent more people would turn to the advice center. “Many young people suffered during the corona pandemic. The students report that the pressure at school is extremely high. After home schooling, things went right back to business as usual. But war and climate change also put a strain on young people. The calls for help are currently becoming more and more dramatic. That also means that the risk of suicide increases,” said Kalinowski in the FOCUS online interview. The “JugendNotmail” project, founded in 2001, is also supported by the TRIBUTE TO BAMBI Foundation.

You can find further helpful contact points here:

When children or young people suffer from depression, they need support and encouragement from those closest to them, usually from their parents. They should inform themselves well about the disease in order to better understand certain behaviors, such as social withdrawal.

Parents should also:

It is also important for parents themselves to be aware that the causes of depression are very diverse and that an illness does not mean that they have failed in their upbringing. Excessive feelings of guilt do not help those affected or their relatives and are often unfounded.

Because people who suffer from depression often have a predisposition. This predisposition can be genetic or acquired through traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse or loss.

Depression also tends to run in families. If first-degree relatives are affected by the disease, the risk of developing depression themselves is around 15 percent.

Research also suggests that depression is characterized by changes in neurotransmitters in the brain. The brain metabolism with the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and other messenger substances becomes unbalanced in those affected.