Depression is a mental condition that affects a significant portion of the population. Its symptoms include feeling hopeless or apathetic, experiencing loss of interest in activities, sleep or appetite changes, and in severe cases, thoughts of suicide. Symptoms can last from a short period of time, to chronic depression lasting years. Depression can affect men, women, and children and can adversely affect other areas of a person’s health. It is important to treat depression as a serious illness and seek treatment. Treatments include talk therapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes.
Like every loving parent, you work hard to ensure your child has a happy life. In spite of your best efforts, your child may suffer from depression through no fault of your own.
Childhood depression is a condition that is often misunderstood by parents. It is more than just sadness. Psychologists categorize it as a mood disorder that affects a child’s emotions, energy and behavior.
If childhood depression is left untreated, it can lead to serious consequences. Depressed children are more likely to commit suicide, experiment with drugs, commit crimes, withdraw from important relationships and exhibit reckless behavior.
As a parent, it is important for you to be able to identify depression symptoms in your child. Here are 8 ways to identify depression in your child.
1. Your child’s sleep pattern has changed.
Depressed children may sleep more than usual or have trouble sleeping at night. If you notice prolonged changes in your child’s sleep patterns, investigate the problem immediately.
2. Your child is preoccupied with death and dying.
Most children do not think a lot about death and dying. Depressed children can become fixated with the idea of dying. You should be especially concerned if your child talks about wanting to die.
3. Your child has lost interest in activities that he previously enjoyed.
At some point or another, every child loses interests in their favorite activities only to find another activity that he likes better. Children who are depressed lose interest in every aspect of life. Nothing seems to light a spark within depressed children. When children are depressed, they go through the motions of life.
4. Your child has become disruptive in class or at home.
Childhood depression and anger often accompany one another. If you notice violent outbursts and irritability, your child may be depressed.
5. Your child’s academic performance has changed for the worse.
Not only do depressed children lose interest in their favorite activities, they lose interest in school. Depressed children have challenges with concentrating and focusing in school. They may become day dreamers, or refuse to participate in classroom activities. If you notice a negative change in your child’s academic reports, your child could be suffering from depression.
6. Your child has lost his zest for life.
Children often exhibit high energy, and they are usually excited about life. However, children who are depressed exhibit low energy, prolonged sadness and hopelessness.
7. Your child’s appetite has changed.
Has your child become an emotional eater? Has your child lost his appetite? Noticeable changes in your child’s appetite can be a sign of depression.
8. Your child complains about having physical ailments.
Depressed children often complain about being sick with stomach ailments and headaches. This usually lasts for extended periods of time. Children with depression have ailments that do not get better after they receive treatment. These ailments are usually psychological.
9. Your child is experiencing self-esteem problems.
There is a difference between lacking confidence and having low self-esteem. Depressed children feel as if they do not matter. They often feel worthless. Depressed children are hard on themselves for everything they feel is imperfect about them. Some depressed children feel guilty for no reason.
10. Your child is crying more than usual.
Crying is one of the most obvious signs of childhood depression. Depressed children cry over the smallest offenses. Crying is an audible symptom that alerts you that your child is in mental pain.
11. Your child is suffering from anxiety.
Children who are depressed can fidget and shake for no reason at all. They are also fearful and tense.
12. Your child is abusing alcohol and drugs.
Unfortunately, drug use is not relegated to adults. Children as young as 10 years old experiment with drugs and alcohol. If your child seems to be inebriated, trust your instincts. Investigate the matter to determine whether your child is using drugs or alcohol. It is important to stop abuse in its tracks before it turns into addiction.
These symptoms can indicate problems other than depression. However, a child that exhibits any of these symptoms should be helped immediately. In the case of childhood depression, you should be proactive.
How to Help a Depressed Child
There is hope for children who are living with depression. You can help your child by acknowledging there is a problem. After you acknowledge the problem, it is time to take action to help your child.
In some instances, parents become afraid and ignore the problem. Ignoring the symptoms will not make them go away or get better. In fact, untreated depression often gets worse. If your child is depressed, here are some immediate actions you can take.
- Resist the urge to blame your child or yourself. Placing blame does not solve the problem. During this crisis, you need solutions.
- Keep calm. Try not to push the panic button. It is normal for you to become anxious when your child is in trouble. Find ways to keep a level head throughout this crisis.
- Research as much information as possible that will help you understand depression in children. In order to effectively deal with this issue, you must know how to handle it. Knowledge will empower you to take the actions that are best for your child.
- Allow your child to move through depression at his own pace. Recovering from depression takes time. It might take months or years for your child to regain a new appreciation for life. Try not to get frustrated with your child if the healing process takes longer than you expected.
- Reaffirm your child’s intrinsic value. Let them know that depression is a common occurrence. Let your child know that depression is not his fault.
- Communicate with your child about his feelings. Depression is a delicate situation. If your child wants to talk, make time to discuss anything that is on his mind.
- Determine whether your child is having suicidal thoughts. Discussing suicide with your child will be frightening and difficult. This is a discussion you must have with your child. Put fear aside and listen carefully to your child’s response. If you suspect that your child is suicidal, contact emergency professionals.
- Take your child to a therapist, counselor or psychologist. Seek the help of a supportive professional to help you and your child navigate through this dilemma. You do not have to tackle this problem alone. If a therapist is not in your budget, there are organizations that offer free or reduced cost counseling sessions. Find one immediately.
- Encourage your child to engage with his friends or a fun activity. Set goals with your child for him to engage in at least one social activity each week.
Childhood depression is a condition that can be overcome with patience and perseverance. By knowing the signs of childhood depression, you can get the help your child needs.