Identifying the Signs of Depression in Children: Do You Have a Depressed Child?

A depressed child is comforted by her mother
Learning the difference between sadness and depression are critical to understanding how to support your children.

If you notice changes in your child’s mood or social patterns, it can be extremely worrying as a parent or grandparent. Depressive symptoms can vary from child to child, making it difficult to know if your child needs a mental health evaluation. It can be difficult to approach your child and know how to get adequate professional support to treat depression. This article will look at how to recognize the signs of depression in children and seek support for anxiety in depressed children.

Long-term changes in mood might be a sign of depression in children.
Every struggle is real, but you need to learn when to intervene in your child’s journey.

Recognizing Depression in Children

Many children are anxious when they are younger. They are facing new skills and challenges they have never dealt with before. It’s crucial that parents don’t shield their children from these challenges; it helps them become independent and resilient as an adult.

However, if your child is increasingly anxious and displaying signs of social withdrawal, you may need help from your child’s doctor. Your child might have an irritable mood or have trouble getting to sleep. Other behavioral changes might include increased mood swings, frequent sadness, or sudden anger. Their health might start to impact their social life, school, family life, or homework. For most children, these are signs that they are developing depression.

Teens might engage in self-destructive behavior like self-harm or substance abuse. They may even display suicidal behavior if they have severe depression or bipolar disorder. The support of a mental health professional like a board-certified psychiatrist will help your child with a diagnosis. Your child’s pediatrician will also be able to rule out any physical illnesses alongside your child’s depression.

What’s the Best Way to Help My Child’s Mental Health?

If you think you have a child with depression, it’s essential to talk to them and find out how they feel. They may not want to speak to you straight away, but let them know you are there for them. You might want to encourage them to speak to another person they trust, like another parent, grandparent, close relative, or teacher.

It can be challenging to know what to ask your child when you think they are experiencing depression. Younger children may have difficulty identifying their emotions. You might be able to identify their mood through their play. For example, if they make their action figure toys play angrily with each other, you could say things like “Why are they fighting?” to try to start a conversation about their feelings. Try not to push them, however difficult it is to see your child upset.

When talking to older children, try not to come across as judgmental. Treat them as an adult and respect their intelligence. Tell them that you are worried about them and want to make sure they’re okay. If your child has engaged in dangerous behavior like alcohol abuse, try not to be angry when talking to them about their behavior.

 Encourage your child to talk to another trusted adult about feeling hopeless, if they aren’t ready to talk to you yet.
Even if your child isn’t able to open up about their struggles, there are options for support.

What Is Depression in Children?

Childhood depression manifests as persistent sadness or anger that does not go away over time. You may notice warning signs such as your child exhibiting self-criticism, hopelessness, low self-esteem, emotional lows, extreme sensitivity, or a decreased interest in seeing their friends. No matter how children feel at a particular moment, they tend to bounce back faster than adults. If your child does not recover from a fight with a friend or stays moody for a long time, they may be depressed.

When Can Depression Affect a Child, and Does Family History Matter?

Children and adolescents can be depressed at any age, and any long-term deviation from their usual behavior may be a sign of major depressive disorder. Although teens can be moody, if their behavior is more destructive and angry than usual, you see increased irritability, or they are sad for long periods of time, it might be time to seek professional help from an adolescent psychiatrist.

One of the risk factors for major depression is a history of the condition in your family. If you have a history of mental illness, your child may be more predisposed to the condition. Statistics suggest that one in 40 children experience depression. Very young children with major depression may also have anxiety, phobias, or a physical illness.

How Do I Know If My Child Has an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders manifest in different ways between children and adults. Younger children may experience separation anxiety, regress, become clingy, or have phobias of animals like bees or dogs. It is also possible for children to develop school phobia, which is the fear of school. They might have frequent absences from school over time. Talking to mental health services can help manage the symptoms of anxiety.

What Are the Physical Signs of Anxiety in a Child?

Your child’s symptoms of anxiety can manifest through nausea, stomach aches, and problems with breathing. They may have muscle tension, and their heart might beat faster than usual. They may feel shaky, dizzy, or sweaty. These symptoms may coincide with changes in mood, like if they say they feel sad or low. Children with depression tend to have more physical symptoms than adults.

Bullying is often a cause of childhood depression.
Children who are bullied are often struggling to face new emotions.

Why Is My Child Depressed?

Depression can be the result of life events or trauma, like childhood abuse from family or other adults, the death of a loved one, divorce, bullying, severe illness, or violence in the home. However, it can also be caused by genetic disposition, especially if there is a family history of mental illness. If children grow up in a household where they learn to be scared or anxious, they may be more likely to be depressed.

It’s important to remember that there may be no diagnosable reason for depression. As parents, we may have feelings of guilt if our kids are depressed. But it’s vital to remain focused on how the kids feel and help them with treating depression.

How Common Is Childhood Depression?

Depression in children affects 4% of kids in the US, with almost 10% experiencing anxiety. Nearly 10% have ADHD, while 9% have other behavioral conditions. Nearly 2 in 5 children will require support from their healthcare provider.

Depression in children is often diagnosed during the teenage years, with one in six people having the condition between the ages of 10 and 19. The type of disorders diagnosed in children tend to vary with age. ADHD and behavioral disorders are more commonly discovered in younger children, while others like eating disorders are often diagnosed in teens.

Spending time together as a family can help your child feel safe and secure.
Family time can build a sense of safety and hopefulness in a child.

Treatment for Anxiety and Depression

Treating Childhood Depression

If your child is depressed, there are many treatment options to help them on their path to recovery. One option is medication. These will almost always be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). If you and a mental health specialist decide that antidepressant medication is the right option for your child, they will often start on the lowest dose. The pediatrician will also conduct some health checks to rule out any other health conditions as a cause.

Counseling is another good way to help your child with a treatment plan. They may have a therapist alongside medication. You or your child may find that attending support groups and therapy sessions can help recovery.

Managing Suicidal Thoughts

If your child has a major depressive episode, feels highly anxious, or is unable to manage daily activities like school or home life, they may have suicidal thoughts. If your child feels this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will attempt suicide. However, it’s important to talk to them if you suspect they are feeling suicidal. If they self-harm, this could mean that they are feeling suicidal, but the two are not always interchangeable.

It is essential to be calm and empathetic when talking to your child if you suspect they are feeling suicidal. You should provide emotional support as much as possible. If they mention plans for suicide, seek immediate help. With the right treatment, your child can come through to the other side and reach a positive outcome.

If your child is severely depressed, they may benefit from visiting a treatment facility or even spending some time in a children’s hospital. It can be scary to think of your kid in a medical facility, but they can help provide medical and mental assistance through therapy and treatment plans.

5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child With Depression

  1. Help maintain a healthy lifestyle – just like adults, kids benefit from physical exercise, time outdoors, and a balanced diet. A healthy lifestyle can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and also prevent other health issues.
  2. Spend quality time together – spending time with your child and other family members can help your child feel safe and secure and stop social isolation.
  3. Establish a set bedtime – making sure your child gets enough sleep is a critical step in alleviating depression.
  4. Plan fun activities – help your child plan some fun activities you can do together as a family or with friends.
  5. Seek the help of a therapist – therapy can help your child work through their depression. Family therapy may also help your child with their recovery process.

Can My Child Recover From Depression?

Early treatment can help depression in children. The earlier the diagnosis, the less likely they will experience mental health problems in the future. Over time, with the right treatment, medical help, and counseling, they can get better at coping with and learning to manage their depression and anxiety. Early diagnosis can also help with the prevention of future more severe concerns and help treat anxiety.

Building up healthy daily habits from a young age can also help young kids with the coping skills needed. This includes getting enough sleep, socializing with other children, and engaging in exercise. As parents, looking after our own mental health can also set an excellent example for our children.

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