Major depressive disorder (MDD) in children (5–12 years of age) is a confronting and serious psychiatric illness. MDD has significant ramifications for the psychosocial development of the child, yet it remains under-recognised and undertreated. General practice is where these children and their parents will first present.
The aim of this article is to provide general practitioners (GPs) with a framework for considering MDD in a child and recommendations for treatment.
Children with MDD have the same core features as adolescents and adults, taking into account the child’s capacities for cognition and language, and developmental stage. Earlier onset of illness is associated with poorer outcomes and greater psychiatric morbidity persisting into adulthood. MDD is more common than anticipated, and should be considered for any child presenting with depressive symptoms and/or impaired psychosocial functioning. Despite limited evidence, numerous interventions exist that will, ideally, significantly affect the child’s developmental trajectory. GPs are in an important position to initiate these interventions.