Sadness, Grief and Depression

Parent Information
Sadness is a normal, healthy emotion in response to loss; which for children or adolescents may be triggered by moving house, changing schools, friendship troubles or loss of an important person or relationship or other distressing events. Normal grief lasts longer than most other sadness and a child or adolescent may experience distress for months after a significant person has died.

When to seek help

When sadness will not go away over weeks and is associated with a loss of enjoyment, social withdrawal, reduced or poor school performance and/or physical symptoms such as changes in sleep or appetite, it may be part of a depressive disorder. In teenagers, irritability and longer sleep may be more prominent than sadness or trouble sleeping. Thoughts and actions of wanting to die do not always indicate depression but do indicate a level of distress where professional help is required.

When grief prevents a child or adolescent from returning to school and other important activities over weeks or is not having a gradual improvement (albeit with times of more distress at anniversaries and other special times) it indicates difficulty.

In these situations it is appropriate to arrange an assessment. This should include asking about and making a plan to address any concerns about the child or adolescent’s safety. Initially this is with your General Practitioner who may then refer to other health professionals such as a Child and Adolescent Psychologist or other professional therapist or Psychiatrist.

On the other hand, if you have serious concerns for your child or adolescents’ immediate safety that are not safely addressed by your child or adolescent’s Safety Plan (from their health professional) please take them to the nearest hospital emergency department or (in Australia) call 000.


When sadness or irritability is part of a depressive disorder in a child or adolescent, there are several effective treatments available. Some children and adolescents with milder symptoms find regular exercise, increased pleasant activities or relaxation helpful.

The first line treatments for older children and adolescents for any more than mild symptoms, or when mild symptoms do not resolve are talking therapies; Interpersonal Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Both of these have been shown to work for this age group in well-conducted, scientific studies. There is emerging evidence for some forms of Family Therapy, particularly where family distress or stressors are linked to the onset of symptoms.

Therapy works best when delivered by a professional with specific training in these therapies with children and/or adolescents and best practice includes the parents.

When symptoms are more severe, do not respond fully to talking therapy or (rarely) it is not possible to access appropriate talking therapy a specific type of antidepressant medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) is appropriate in older children or adolescents.


Youth Beyond Blue: Depression and anxiety (AUS)
ReachOut: Depression (AUS)