Losing Interest In Activities
Your child may naturally lose interest in things they once loved, like a favorite toy or TV show, or suddenly declare that they no longer want to engage in a favorite activity. This is different from a child with depression.
A depressed child has a hard time finding joy or excitement in anything. Your child may be indifferent to almost everything. Kids who are depressed often seem like they are just going through the motions without any joy or pleasure in what they are doing.
Managing Depression In Children: Support At Home
As well as working with mental health professionals, here are some simple and effective ways that you can help your child:
- Make time to talk with your child and listen to their feelings. You could do this when youre making dinner together or going for a walk.
- Gently encourage your child to do something they would normally enjoy when theyre feeling depressed instead of dwelling on their feelings. For example, a trip to the park or spending time with friends.
- Manage your childs stress and tension. Regular family routines that make time for exercise, relaxing and socialising with friends can help. Getting enough sleep can also reduce your childs stress levels.
- Look for apps that can help your child learn relaxation strategies, like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualisations and mindfulness.
- Speak with your childs teacher or school counsellor to find the best ways to support your child at school.
When siblings and other family members know that your child has depression, they can help by being accepting and compassionate. But before you tell other people, ask your child whether this is OK. Its important for your child to give permission for you to tell others.
Changes In Eating Habits Or Weight
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reviewed the role of weight in depression in teens, and found that girls who were overweight or obese were nearly twice as likely to have depression as girls who had a healthy body weight. If your child seems tormented about weight, it could be a sign of depression.
Changes in eating habits are also a sign of teen depression, said Bea. Look for suddenly eating significantly more or less or sudden changes in weight, and talk with your teen about what may be bothering him or her.
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How To Treat Depression In Children
Acknowledging symptoms of depression in your child and intervening early are key to addressing the problem before it escalates. There are various forms of treatment available to encourage your child to be open about what is making them depressed.
If a young child is diagnosed with depression , they can be treated through various forms of talking or playing therapy as well as cognitive behavioural therapy, where their feelings can be further heard and understood. This might come from play therapists, child psychotherapists or psychologists.
The British Association of Play Therapists defines play therapy as a means of “helping children understand muddled feelings and upsetting events that they haven’t had the chance to sort out properly”.
Rather than forcing them to talk, play therapy encourages children to use play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace, without feeling questioned or threatened.
Melville-Thomas adds that older children and teenagers can also respond to talking therapies. These might include cognitive behavioural therapy , during which the link between thoughts and feelings is examined.
What Are Risk Factors For Childhood Depression
It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand the risk factors for depression in children, which can include anxiety, family history of mental disorders, hormonal changes in puberty and life stressors.
“Chronic anxiety is one of the most common risk factors we see for depression in children,” explains Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP, Research Director of the Neuropsychology Service at Children’s Health and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern. “This is anxiety that hasn’t been properly diagnosed or treated for anywhere from months to years, which wears children down emotionally over time.”
Risk factors for childhood depression can include life stressors such as:
- Changing to a new school
- Conflict in the home
- Parental separation or divorce
- Starting school
In addition to the above life stressors, adolescents and teens may also deal with the following situations that can trigger depression:
- Academic stress, especially related to college admissions
- Athletic performance pressure
- Dating relationships, including negative relationships and breakups
- Sleep deprivation
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Causes Of Childhood Depression
There could be several factors that could contribute to childhood depression. Here are some of the risk factors.
Stress Sometimes stressful events at home, school, or with friends could be the triggers behind a childs depressive symptoms.
Physical Health Children suffering from chronic or severe medical conditions like obesity could put a child at risk for depression. They may feel like an outsider if they are not able to participate in activities at home or at school.
Family History Family history also has a role to play in the risk factors. Children whose family members have a history of mood disorders or depression may be at a higher risk for depressive symptoms.
Environment Children are sensitive to the environment around them. If the home environment is chaotic or stressful, it can affect the childrens well-being. They may be more likely to be depressed.
Biochemical Imbalances When certain chemicals or hormones in children are unbalanced, it can affect how their brain works. This could also be one of the causes of depression.
These risk factors may alone not be responsible for depression. However, they could play a significant role in the chances of a child developing depression.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Depression In Children And Young People
The symptoms of depression are often different for different people.
Common symptoms are:
Depression in children and young people is different to adults, and they may be more irritable and rebellious than sad. Children and young people may not be able to express in words how they are feeling because of their age. Also, they may deny that they have a problem or ‘put on a happy face’ because they are concerned that people will think there is something wrong with them and they do not understand what is going on for them.
It is important not to discount symptoms of depression as ‘just being a teenager’ and a phase that they will grow out of. This is not the case. Depression is a serious illness that needs to be addressed properly.
The signs and symptoms of depression may be shared with other childhood problems and can require professional help to assess properly.
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What Are The Signs Of Depression In Children
Unfortunately, depression in kids is often misdiagnosed or untreated, because the symptoms can be mistaken for normal developmental, emotional, and psychological changes. The symptoms of depression in children can also vary some kids exhibit signs of anger or acting out, while others exhibit the symptoms we’ve come to recognize like sadness or withdrawal.
Symptoms of depression in children can include irritability or unexplained anger, persistent sadness or hopelessness, withdrawal from friends or family, fatigue and/or changes in their appetite and sleep habits, sensitivity to rejection, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in hobbies or activities, and complaints of physical ailments like tummy aches or headaches that don’t respond to treatment. Kids who suffer from depression may also have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, and may or may not express those thoughts.
It’s important to remember that not all kids will exhibit all of these symptoms, and kids who suffer from depression may not exhibit them all of the time. Like depression in adults, depression in kids can come and go, and they can have good days and bad days. It’s also important to remember that children with one or more depressed parents are more likely to become depressed at some point.
How To Help A Child Experiencing Depression
Although it can seem like a scary subject to tackle, depression is very treatable. Many of the methods used to treat depression can also be thought of as preventative measures when it comes to building up your childs mental health.
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Subtle Warning Signs In Children
While the warning signs in children can be subtle, learning potential red flags plays a crucial role in intervention.
Changes in baseline behavior:Trust your gut. If you notice behavioral changes that arent a one-time issue, take note. While suicidal behavior is often associated with symptoms of depression, you might also notice the following changes in your child:
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Changes in eating habits
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Psychosomatic symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, other aches and pains that cant be explained
Changes at school:Its perfectly normal for kids to experience ups and downs during the learning process, but a pattern of negative change can be a red flag that a child needs help. Make a note of the following:
- Drop in academic performance
- Lack of interest in school
- School refusal
- Loss of interest in normal daily activities
Preoccupation with death:Its natural for kids to think about death at times, particularly when they are coping with loss or hear about tragic events in the news. Preoccupation with death, researching ways to die, and/or talking about their own death can be red flags. Watch for the following warning signs that involve thoughts about death:
- Frequent questions about or looking up ways to die
- Statements about dying or what will happen if the child dies
Take all suicidal statements seriously by seeking an evaluation for your child.
Childhood Depression Childhood Anxiety
Whether a child suffers from true depression or a kind of anxiety, the condition is serious.
Prior to puberty the equivalent of depression in children is anxiety, Koplewicz says. “When kids are anxious they most probably have similar biochemical issues to teenagers. … So these anxiety disorders are most likely, in prepuberty, the predisposition to depression.”
In fact, kids who have anxiety as children are more likely to have teen depression. About half of depressed teens had a childhood anxiety disorder. And 85% of teens who have both anxiety disorders and depression had their anxiety disorder first.
“So anxiety in children is serious, and we tend to minimize it,” Koplewicz says. “Anxiety is probably toxic to the brain. We tend to think it is all within the normal range of childhood behavior, and it is not.”
Childhood anxiety disorders are persistent symptoms that center on a single theme. They cause children a great deal of distress and disrupt their daily lives. These disorders fall into three categories:
“Hoping it is a phase, hoping the child will grow out of it, is a very big mistake,” Koplewicz says. “All these disorders cause distress and dysfunction. It makes people feel hopeless. And hopelessness is what makes people want to hurt themselves. It isn’t depression, it is hopelessness.”
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How To Communicate With A Depressed Teen
Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Youll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that youre there for them, fully and unconditionally.
Be gentle but persistent. Dont give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what theyre feeling. Be respectful of your childs comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Acknowledge their feelings. Dont try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why things arent that bad will just come across as if you dont take their emotions seriously. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your teen wont open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or a mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.
How To Handle Depression During The Pandemic
In this truly unique time, families are faced with more choices and challenges than ever before regarding their childrens education, safety, and mental and emotional wellbeing. Although you might not be able to control the current circumstances, you are in control of how you respond to difficult or scary events and your children will likely mirror your reaction.
Schwenk provided some insight into this situation.
Everyone is having a lot of different feelings coming from the uncertainty surrounding this next school year she said. What are the feelings under the feelings? It is crucial for parents to care for themselves and manage their emotions in order to provide that for children also. Parents, guardians, and caregivers can model to kids how to handle feelings. So when adults are not able to express themselves and ultimately just shut down, kids are learning to deal with their feelings in the same way. On the other hand, when parents draw, journal, or exercise to process their feelings kids pick up on that.
As for the children who might already be having difficulties transitioning, Schwenk recommends creating healthy routines and showing your child that you will always be there to support them, even if you dont know whats coming next.
Try to show up for your child in the best way you can, Schwenk said. Let your child know that you will get through it together. Whatever happens with school, you will be in it together.
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Learn How To Tell If Your Child Is Depressed And The Best Ways To Help
Does your child seem unusually sad, irritable or quiet lately? Such changes in mood could be due to a temporary stress in life. But how do you know if its something more?
Its important for parents and caregivers to understand the risk factors for depression in children, which can include anxiety, family history of mental disorders, hormonal changes in puberty and life stressors.
How To Help Your Child With Depression
The best way to treat childhood depression is to talk with your child as you need to understand whats happening. Sometimes this may be a difficult conversation to have, but it will help you know what theyre feeling and experiencing.
If you cannot speak with your child, be observant, and take notes. Keep a diary and write down any observable changes as this can help your childs doctor understand the situation better.
Childhood depression is treatable, and it is a mental health issue that must be taken seriously. Do not put off seeking medical help due to the social stigmas attached to depression. As parents, its essential to realize the importance of treatment so your childrens physical and emotional growth and well-being are on the right track.
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How Does Psychotherapy Work
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that can treat anxiety or depression in children. CBT helps children learn to think more positively and control negative behaviors. It can also help children manage anxiety by getting to the root of their fears and worries. Therapy gives children tools to cope with anxiety and depression in healthier ways.
Signs Of Depression In Grade School
- Frequently complains about aches and pains, but nothings physically wrong.
- Has a negative outlook on life in general.
- Talks often about feeling sad or lonely, despite having friends.
- Talks about being bullied, even when there are no signs of it.
- Does much worse in school or in sports. No longer cares about doing well in anything.
- Loses interest in daily activities. Says things are boring.
- Spends most free time on the couch in front of the TV.
- Isnt gaining weight at a time when kids are growing rapidly.
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Can Depression In Children Be Prevented
Children with a family history of depression are also at higher risk of depression. Children who have parents with depression tend to have their first episode of depression earlier than children whose parents donât have the condition. Children from chaotic or conflicted families, or children and teens who abuse substances like alcohol and drugs, are also at greater risk of depression.