Depression is a debilitating psychological condition that can have profoundly adverse effects on a person’s quality of life. More than just a sad mood, depression can alter a person’s ability to think, feel, and function on an everyday basis. Some of us may think of depression as an adult condition, but unfortunately, it can affect children, too.

Anywhere from 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 children is affected by some form of serious emotional disturbance, affecting their emotional and social welfare well into adulthood. As if that weren't enough, a recent study has shown that there are significant economic consequences to childhood depression as well.

In first study of its kind, researchers looked at nearly 35,000 people from 5000 American families and determined that the economic impact of childhood psychological disorders can hamper a person’s ability to work and earn income as adults, and may cost the overall economy as much as $2.1 trillion in lost productivity.

According to the findings, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, childhood depression can diminish a person’s likelihood of getting married later in life, as well as obtaining an education. Sufferers of childhood emotional problems are also more likely to see a 20% drop in income over their lifetimes.

Scientists examined a large number of American families over the course of 40 years. The study was unique in that the researchers were able to look at siblings in the same family and thus compare outcomes for two separate individuals who grew up in identical circumstances but may have had different emotional-health experiences.

The data indicates that people who had experienced psychological problems as children earned, on average, $10,400 less per year when compared to siblings who reported no psychological problems in their youth. The discrepancy was explained in part by fewer working days (7 weeks per year).

These same individuals were less likely to marry than their siblings (11% less), and on average attend about half a year less of schooling. The data was adjusted to exclude for the possibility that problems in adulthood were rooted in physical illnesses during childhood.

While clearly not all people who suffer from childhood depression will experience these consequences as adults, they are statistically more likely to have them than their counterparts who were not depressed as children. Furthermore, over 35% of the adults who reported having psychological conditions as children said that they suffered from them as adults as well.

It may seem callous to equate a person’s emotional well-being with a loss in productivity, but the relationship underscores the significant reach that psychological problems can have throughout their lives, and the importance of recognizing and addressing the situation as early as possible.

Depression is serious but treatable condition, but only if it is first acknowledged and identified. If you are concerned about whether or not your child is suffering from depression, keep an eye out for certain symptoms that include:

  • frequent crying or sadness/li>
  • lack of enjoyment in activities
  • low energy and self esteem
  • social isolation
  • inability to sleep or eat
  • extreme sensitivity

If you suspect that he or she is depressed, speak with your pediatrician as soon as possible to know your options. For more information, visit the website for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology.