Depression in children is not a subject many of us are comfortable with, but the terrible truth is that more and more kids are being diagnosed with depression today.
According to the statistics on Children’s Mental Health, 3.2% of children between three and 17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have experienced depression and this condition is more common now than ever before.
What causes depression in children
Many reasons may help explain the reasons behind depression in childhood. In many cases, it often occurs because of several overlapping events which may include:
- Difficult family events (for example a separation or death in the family)
- Family history – children whose parents suffer from depression are also more likely to experience depression. These kids may also be diagnosed with depression at an earlier age than other children.
- This condition is also common among children undergoing difficult experiences (for example bullying or any kind of abuse – sexual, emotional or physical)
The signs and symptoms to look out for
Childhood is a period filled with emotionally distressing events as our kids attempts to navigate the different emotions that they are only beginning to familiarize themselves with.
While sad feelings are not uncommon in children, there may be occasions when their “blues” may actually hide something more serious.
Here are a few warning signs to look out for:
1) Never-ending blues
One of the most common signs of childhood depression is the duration of their feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Before they are able to manage their emotions effectively, most children experience certain situations intensely.
It is perfectly normal for your child to feel sad because they did not get to sit next to a particular classmate, or perhaps because they felt that they had been left out of a game. But children are generally able to quickly overcome their feelings of sorrow and to turn to something else, except if they are suffering from depression.
If your child is still sad because of something “minor” that happened weeks ago, then that might point to depression.
2) Major mood swings
Mood swings are relatively common in children, but they are not normal if they are occurring every day or several times a day, or if they are intense or disproportionate to the event that cause the mood swing.
These mood swings could imply regular anger outbursts, irritability, crying, general crankiness, extreme clinginess, and any other intense behavior.
A group of researchers who analyzed the tantrum patterns of 279 three-to six-year-olds found that intense, regular and disproportionate tantrum behavior was more common in children with clinical problems. Major behavioral problems at school may also be a sign of childhood depression.
If your child has multiple and intense tantrums, download the list below to better understand their tantrum behavior.
3) Social withdrawal
Depression can manifest itself through social withdrawal. Your child could begin to avoid friends or classmates during social activities.
Perhaps your child is simply a loner, and if this is part of their personality, there is nothing to worry about. Remember that some children need solitude to thrive. That said, struggling with mood swings coupled with socially withdrawal may be a sign of the condition.
Several studies suggest that social withdrawal may be a sign of social or emotional difficulties and may be your child’s way of expressing internalized thoughts and feelings of social anxiety or depression.
4) Major changes can lead to depression
Major behavioral changes should always be a cause of concern among children. This could mean significant changes in eating habits, sleeping habits, extreme fatigue, physical changes such as headaches that do not seem to go away, and so on.
5) Talk of death or suicide
Regular talk of death or suicide is a red flag.
Diagnosing childhood depression
Diagnosing depression in children is a difficult task for the simple reason that different kids have different symptoms.
Moreover, children may act differently depending on where and with whom they are. Observing your child is an easy way to determine whether you should seek help. Significant behavior changes and persistent and intense feelings that interfere with everyday life (school, extracurricular activities, life with friends, etc.) are often symptoms of the condition.
Do not hesitate to speak to your family doctor if you are worried about your child’s behavior. To be diagnosed with depression, they must have displayed several symptoms of depression for at least two weeks.
1) Become a more attentive listener
Many children struggle with their emotions because they are yet to understand and effectively deal with difficult situations.
Talking to your child about what may be causing them distress is important, and treating their emotions as valid helps them understand that it is okay to have those emotions. Remember that while they may not necessarily need a solution, an outlet to express themselves is always welcome.
If your child is not open to communication, talking about your own feelings during difficult moments can help them understand that everyone has big emotions, even you.
If your child is unable to process big emotions, resources such as The Emotions Kit can give them the tools they need to learn about different emotions, how these manifest in their body, and how they can deal with those emotions in a socially appropriate manner.
2) Find the “perfect confidant”
Just because your child is unwilling to confide in you does not mean they will not be willing to confide in someone else. If this is the case, encourage them to confide in a family member, a friend, or even their teacher.
3) Help your child manage their anxiety
Many children who experience depression also experience different degrees of anxiety. Helping your child better deal with anxiety can lessen their feelings of distress and give them important tools to deal with difficult anxiety-provoking situations. Remember that tools to help exist.
4) Boost your child’s mental wellbeing
Depression is a mental condition that requires professional intervention. That said, a child who feels good about themselves has better mental health.
Here are a few things that may help your child:
- Show your child that they are safe enough to openly express their emotions
- Ensure that they are getting enough physical exercise every day
- Sufficient sleep is a must to keep depression at bay. Encourage your child to take rests (quiet time) or naps if they need them
- Keep track of your child’s diet… “A healthy body is a healthy mind!”
- Help your child see themselves as someone capable of success. This may mean encouraging them to participate in age-appropriate chores or privileging activities that you know they are good at.
5) Seek professional help
Denying that your child has depression will not make it disappear. Depression, even in children, does not go away without treatment. The earlier your child gets the help they need, the easier it will be to tackle their depression.
If you have any questions about depression in children, or any doubts about your child’s behavior and are feeling overwhelmed, please see your general practitioner. They will help you determine the next steps to take to ensure that your child gets the help that they need.