About 3% of children suffer from depression in the United States. Depression, however, often goes hand in hand with anxiety. It’s important to know the signs to watch for in both of these so that you can help your child or another child in your life cope and get the treatment he or she needs.
Just like with adults, children struggle with being down, angry, and moody at times. This is normal. Depression, though, is a mood disorder that is pervasive and isn’t something that a child can just “get over” by hanging out with friends or getting to do a hobby they enjoy.
How to recognize depression in children.Because children have a limited emotional vocabulary, it might be challenging to ascertain how they’re feeling. These four signs are things to watch for and get outside help for your child.
Loss of interest in activities or friendships they once enjoyed.
As with adults, children will tend to lose interest in hobbies or even hanging out with friends that they used to love. It can be tough to recognize, though, since many children and teens jump from hobby to hobby and friend to friend. Parents might have a hard time keeping up with who their best friend is from week to week, especially as adolescence begins.
However, it’s important to notice if one friend who has been in your child’s life for a while is suddenly not calling, not coming over, or you’re not hearing that child’s name mentioned around the house at all. This may be because they had a falling out, and they need to work it out. But it could be the symptom of something more.
Another tell-tale sign has to do with hobbies and activities. Of course, the younger a child is, the more he or she tends to switch from sport to sport or hobby to hobby. Usually, though, there is a constant. Maybe your child has always played with the dog when he has a tough day or reads a book at night to help him fall asleep. If these routine interests start to fall away, you may need to ask questions about how he is doing emotionally.
Extreme reactions that persist over the course of more than two weeks.
Most of us are aware that depression is often characterized by persistent sadness. However, especially in children and teens, emotions can fluctuate. But if you notice that your child or teen is angry again and again, cries frequently, seems more than just a little moody, or is spending an exorbitant amount of time sleeping to cope with extreme emotions, a check-in is helpful.Ask your child or teen what he or she may be feeling or what kinds of thoughts he or she is thinking. You might have trouble getting accurate answers simply because children and teens aren’t usually equipped to express their emotions in words like adults are.
But it is still beneficial to make the effort. If these symptoms are present for longer than a couple of weeks, it is time to seek professional help.
Comments about self-loathing, worthlessness, or hopelessness, even if spoken in jest.
Everyone knows what it’s like to have a day when they don’t feel their best. We have all had bad hair days. But when you hear a child express disdain for his or her appearance more than once, it’s time to pay attention.
Start logging how many times your child struggles to get ready for school or says something negative about their appearance or achievement. Your child may say they are dumb or call themself a loser. These are signs of low self-esteem, which is a signal that they may be depressed.
Depression in children and teens is often characterized by feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Because our children don’t have the maturity to reach out for help and say when they are feeling hopeless, it’s up to us as parents and caregivers to watch for these types of signals.
Difficulty paying attention or struggling with anxiety.
Having a hard time paying attention and struggling with anxiety about the future, social settings, and/or a specific thing, such as dogs or going to the doctor can be indicators of depression in children. While it’s not always the case, depression and anxiety can be present together. Looking for ways that your child might be distracted or feel uneasy about situations can be a signal of anxiety.
Anxiety and depression in children have increased in recent years, so it’s good to know the signs of each.
Some people tend to think of anxiety or depression as being connected to trauma and present for long periods. However, both anxiety and depression can be brought on by stressful events in a child’s life. These are not always things that we, as adults, would consider stressful. But to a child, they may be.
Paying attention to the context of everyday life and specific seasons of your child’s or teen’s life is important.
- Has your child or teen been through a stressful event, such as a new teacher to whom he or she isn’t responding well?
- Has your family gone through something difficult recently that may have adverse effects on your child or teen?
- Did you or your spouse go through a season of heightened stress or worry that could contribute to your child or teen feeling anxious or afraid?
These are questions to keep in mind as you arm yourself with information about the signs of depression.
How to help children cope.
If you recognize any signs of depression or anxiety (or both) in your child or teen, it’s good to familiarize yourself with how a child is diagnosed.
Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician so that other causes of mood changes can be ruled out. Several illnesses are known to cause signs of depression. These include anemia, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, a concussion, deficiency in Vitamin D, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and epilepsy.
Even if you know that your child doesn’t have any of the previous conditions, it’s important to start with a full check-up so that your doctor can ask appropriate questions. After that, he or she will want to use a mental health evaluation, which includes interviewing you and your child. He or she may also ask for information from teachers and coaches to shed light on your how your child is doing.
If your child is diagnosed with depression, it’s important to let him or her know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. Depression is common in both young people and adults, and it also does not mean that your child will always struggle with it. It could be that your child would benefit from therapy and/or medication for a season.
Treatment of depression in children.
These are the two main ways that depression is treated. medication and counseling. While some people experience help from one type of treatment, others benefit from a combination of the two.
A good first step is to help your child be open to the idea of counseling. Many children, teens, and adults see counselors, and our office has counselors who are trained in working with youth. Additionally, a psychotherapist would be able to prescribe medication in appropriate doses if that is something he or she feels may help your child.
Letting your child know that a counselor is simply part of the team, someone with whom your child can share what’s going on in life, in addition to family and friends is one way to dispel the stigma that can be attached to seeing a counselor. Allowing your child to express how he or she feels about the idea of counseling is also important.
Try not to every place blame or use counseling as a threat, and give your child or teen time to process the idea of going to counseling. Telling him or her that you’re headed to a first appointment while you are on the way there is not a great idea.
Instead, prepare your child to understand why counseling may help. Help them understand what to expect from counseling so they feel prepared. It is also important to explain that your child can always try it and opt-out or find a different counselor. Remind them that many people, including other kids, seek help, and they are not the only one seeing a counselor.
It may even help to do a little research about some of your child’s favorite musicians, actors, and YouTube stars who have gone to counseling. That way, he or she may be able to accept that counseling is just like seeing a pediatrician or a dentist; it is just a different kind of medical professional.
Begin conversations about your own vulnerabilities and feelings. Talking regularly about how you feel in situations, or telling a story or two from your childhood about struggles can be another factor in normalizing emotional vocabulary.
Purchasing a feelings wheel to keep on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror can also help your entire family use language that encourages emotional expression. Make sure other family members understand why it’s important for all family members to feel comfortable sharing their feelings, not just the child who is in therapy.
Siblings, in particular, play an important role in not shaming the child or teen who is in counseling. It can be crucial to help your other children understand that there is nothing wrong with the child who sees a counselor, and finding a family therapist at one of our offices can help normalize counseling for the entire family.
Signs of depression in children are important to recognize, respond to, and not try to fix on your own. Seek out the help of one of the trained counselors in our office today. Making an appointment is a great first step. If you don’t think your child is willing yet, you can make an appointment to talk to a counselor and explain your child’s symptoms. Remember, you and your child have support. Reach out today.
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