Depression In Children: Warning Signs
Parents should be particularly vigilant for signs that may indicate that their child is at risk for suicide.
Warning signs of suicidal behavior in children include:
- Many depressive symptoms
- Social isolation, including isolation from the family
- Talk of suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
- Increased acting-out of undesirable behaviors
- Increased risk-taking behaviors
- Focus on morbid and negative themes
- Talk about death and dying
- Increased crying or reduced emotional expression
- Giving away possessions
If you suspect that your child or teenager is depressed, take the time to listen to their concerns. Even if you don’t think the problem is of real concern, remember that it may feel very real to them. Itâs important to keep the lines of communication open, even if your child seems to want to withdraw. Try to avoid telling your child what to do. Instead, listen closely and you may discover more about the issues causing the problems.
If you feel overwhelmed or unable to reach your child, or if you continue to be concerned, seek professional help.
What Are The Signs Of Depression In Children And Teenagers
One or two of the following signs of depression may be just part of growing up. However, if your child or teenager has had several of them over the past few months and its making they’re making it hard for them to do everyday things , depression is a possibility. However, its important to consider other causes too.Symptoms can include:
- unable to sit still, but pacing and wringing their hands
- lacking interest in usual activities
- being forgetful
- not being able to sleep or wanting to sleep more than usual for their age
- having other sleep problems, eg, staying up late into the night and sleeping during the day, or waking often during the night
- sitting in one place for long periods, moving, responding and talking very slowly
- withdrawing from usual social contact
- being quiet and withdrawn at home
- losing their appetite or eating more resulting in weight loss or gain
- experiencing muscle tension and headaches
- experiencing unexplained physical complaints, especially stomach pains.
What Causes Child Depression
Different things can lead to depression. There is no single cause. Some children have genes that make them more sensitive to depression. They may have other family members who have been depressed.
Some children go through stressful things. Some have faced loss, trauma, or hardships. Some go through serious health conditions. These things can lead to sadness or grief and sometimes to depression.
Having extra support during and after hard times helps protect children from depression or lessen the effects. But even when they have good support, some children get depressed. Therapy can help them heal, feel better, and get back to enjoying things.
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How Do Antidepressants Work
The most common antidepressant medications for children are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors . These medications increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that can help increase feelings of happiness and well-being.
Use extra caution with antidepressants in children. Some children show no improvement with the medications, or may even feel more depressed. If a healthcare provider recommends antidepressants, watch your childs condition closely. Never allow your child to stop taking antidepressants suddenly. Doing so can cause serious side effects or make depression worse.
Work With Your Childs Treatment Team
If you suspect your child has depression, speak to his pediatrician or a mental health professional. Depression is treatable, but without appropriate intervention, it may get worse. Treatment may include therapy, parent training, or medication.
Work with treatment providers to learn about the steps you can take to best support your childs mental health. Inquire about the specific strategies you should use to address behavior problems like non-compliance and disrespect.
How Is Depression Diagnosed
If youre worried your child or teenager may be depressed, see your family doctor. They will ask your child questions about their thoughts, feelings and behaviour, including sleeping and eating patterns, as well as how long they have been feeling this way. They will also ask if the young person has had any previous episodes of depression and may ask about what is happening in their life at the moment. They may also do a physical examination and blood tests to rule out other causes for their depression.
It is important to involve family members where possible when assessing and treating depression. This can become more challenging with adolescents, although remains very important. For young people under 16 years old, parents need to be involved in the consent process.
Signs Of Depression In Children
Symptoms of depression in children often include:
- sadness, or a low mood that does not go away
- being irritable or grumpy all the time
- not being interested in things they used to enjoy
- feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time
Your child may also:
- have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
- not be able to concentrate
- interact less with friends and family
- be indecisive
- eat less than usual or overeat
- have big changes in weight
- seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
- talk about feeling guilty or worthless
- feel empty or unable to feel emotions
- have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
- actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking an overdose
Some children have problems with anxiety as well as depression. Some also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.
Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and young people and so can problem behaviour.
Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.
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What Factors Can Help Protect My Teen From Becoming Suicidal
- Effective medical treatment for mental and physical health problems and substance abuse
- Strong support network of friends, family, peer groups or outside activities
- Skills in solving problems, resolving conflicts and handling disputes without violence
- Cultural and/or religious beliefs that discourage suicide
The Biggest Temptation While Depressed Is To Shut Yourself In Your Room And Wallow In The Darkness
Dont. Drag yourself out to gatherings. Text a friend. Ask to hang, or even just talk. Humans are social animals and shutting ourselves out from human contact is keeping us from an essential part of mental health. Being around people will make you feel less isolated and more loved. Talk, share your problems, and get help.
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A Picture Of A Depressed Child
In major depression, a child with no other psychiatric problems suddenly becomes depressed, sometimes for little or no reason. Sometimes their sleep is disturbed. They are not hungry, have no energy, are afraid of all sorts of things, think life is hopeless, can not concentrate at all, are less social and are very irritable.
Examples of Clinical Depression in Children
4-7 years old
Sara is 5. She has been in preschool all fall and overall, she enjoys it and does fairly well. After Thanksgiving, she seemed to become less and less excited about pre-school. She thought the others were bugging her. She didn’t want to go some days, but her parents made her. At home, it was the same. Nothing was right. When bedtime came, she couldn’t sleep and wanted to sleep with her mom. She lost interest in playing with her cousin. She didn’t get even get that excited about Christmas. She started telling her parents, “You don’t like me”. When they took her out to McDonalds, she liked it, but she was never enthusiastic like she used to be. Her mother would notice her sitting in a chair with a horrible look on her face doing nothing.
7-12 years old
13-17 years old
More comprehensive information about Child Depression Symptoms.
Depressed Children Often Suffer Inexplicable Temper Tantrums
While depression in adolescents and adults is often characterized by deep sadness, hopelessness, and listlessness, small infants may experience apparently unfounded aggression.
As well as angry outbursts, depression can present itself through a lost interest in playtime, insomnia, distraction, and teariness.
“Symptoms also depend on the personality and character of the child,” said Schulte-Markwort.
In addition, children struggle to effectively identify and articulate their depression, and instead, the illness manifests through psychosomatic symptoms, such as stomach aches or headaches.
Other symptoms include altered eating habits, poor expression, and concentration problems.
Infants are sometimes more affectionate than usual.
How able children are to identify their symptoms is also tied in with the stage they’re at with respect to cognitive development.
Again, this applies to suicidal tendencies: children from the age of 12 can be suicidal but the desire to no longer live can be expressed at a much younger age.
“Such a statement should always be taken seriously. This is enormously important,” said Schulte-Markwort. It actually used to be thought that children weren’t susceptible to depression but professionals’ approaches have changed drastically on this front.
“There has been a dramatic change in the past 50 years,” said Schulte-Markwort.
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Does Medicine Work For Childhood Depression
Yes. A large number of research trials have shown the effectiveness of depression medications in relieving the symptoms of childhood depression. One study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, reviewed different approaches to treating adolescents with moderate to severe depression and found that 71% of the adolescents who received combination treatment with the antidepressant medication Prozac and psychotherapy had fewer symptoms. In addition, more than 60% of the kids who took Prozac alone improved.
Schedule A Time To Listen To Your Childs Complaints
If your child launches into a venting session when youre stressed out or in the middle of something, be clear and direct that you are not ready to hear their complaints. You can say:
Sorry, but Im not up for listening to this right now. Lets schedule a time later this evening when I can focus on what youre telling me?
That way, if your child really needs a sounding board and isnt simply complaining for the sake of complaining, youll be able to give them your full attention and listen to whats on their mind .
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Medication Comes With Risks
Antidepressants were designed and tested on adults, so their impact on young, developing brains is not yet fully understood. Some researchers are concerned that exposure to drugs such as Prozac may interfere with normal brain developmentparticularly the way the brain manages stress and regulates emotion.
Antidepressants also come with risks and side effects of their own, including a number of safety concerns specific to children and young adults. They are also known to increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some teenagers and young adults. Teens with bipolar disorder, a family history of bipolar disorder, or a history of previous suicide attempts are particularly vulnerable.
The risk of suicide is highest during the first two months of antidepressant treatment. Teenagers on antidepressants should be closely monitored for any sign that the depression is getting worse.
Teens on antidepressants: Red flags to watch out for
How Common Is Childhood Depression And Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health disorders in children. About 7% of children ages 3 to 17 have anxiety about 3% deal with depression.
Both depression and anxiety tend to be higher in older children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17. An estimated 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 13.3% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17. An estimated 31.9% of adolescents have had an anxiety disorder.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Depression In Teens To Watch Out For
For a diagnosis of depression, a particular cluster of symptoms needs to have been there for at least for two weeks. These symptoms must include at least one of either a depressed mood, or a loss of interest or pleasure in things that were once enjoyable. Many times these will just be a normal part of adolescence and nothing at all to worry about, but if depression is happening, there will be other telltale signs. Here are some to watch out for:
Happiness, anger, indifference the many faces of depression.
Depression doesnt always look like sadness or withdrawal. Some of depressions classic disguises are:
Anger or irritability.
Depression often comes with lethargy, pain and/or hopelessness. Understandably, this can make people angrier, more irritable or more impatient than usual.
Happy, but reluctant to spend time with friends or family.
Its takes a huge amount of strength to move through the day with depression hanging on. If your teen has depression they might use this strength to put on a happy face, but where there is depression, there is also likely to be increasing withdrawal. Its very normal for teens to withdraw from family activities its part of them experimenting with their growing independence. The thing to watch out for is if they withdraw more from friends and spend more time on their own than usual.
Tiredness, lethargy, exhaustion.
Depression is exhausting and can make people more tired than usual, even if they seem to spend more time sleeping.
How Can You Kick Depressions Butt
As I mentioned before, social support and open discussions are great ways to combat depression. However, they are only the start. Recovery takes time, sometimes weeks or months. One day you may feel like youre free then the next you feel down again.
DONT GIVE UP. Good things come with time and effort. Effort may be the hardest thing to muster while depressed but its the simple things that will get you through.
The most important steps to recovery are:
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What Should I Do If I Think My Child Is Depressed
If you think your child is depressed:
Talk with your child about sadness and depression. Kids might not know why they are so sad and why things seem so hard. Let them know you see that they’re going through a hard time and that you’re there to help. Listen, comfort, offer your support, and show love.
Set up a visit with your child’s doctor. Let your child’s doctor know if sad or bad moods seem to go on for a few weeks. By itself, this doesn’t always mean a child is depressed. Tell your child’s doctor if you have also noticed changes in your child’s sleep, eating, energy, or effort. Tell them if your child is dealing with a loss, a big stress, or hardship.
The doctor will do a physical exam. A full exam lets the doctor check for health issues that could cause your child’s symptoms. They can also check for depression. Your child’s doctor may refer you to a child therapist. The doctor’s office might have a child therapist on staff.
Set up a visit with a child therapist. A child therapist will spend time talking with you and your child. They will do an in-depth check for depression by asking questions and listening. The therapist can explain how therapy can help your child.
Take your child to therapy visits. The therapist may suggest a few visits, or more. Therapy can take time, but you will see progress along the way.
Comorbid Depression In Children
Comorbidity means that certain disorders occur more often together than one would expect by chance. For example, diabeties and obesity. The concept of comorbidity is very important in psychiatry. It is very common that a person with depression will also have another childhood neuropsychiatric disorder.
In this situation, a child has a preexisting chronic psychiatric illness and then becomes depressed. The episode of depression occurs along with the other disorder so that the child actually shows signs of two or three psychiatric disorders at the same time. About 50% of children with depression also have conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, 40% of children with depression have anxiety disorder, and 25% of children with depression have attention deficit disorder. Often the episode of depression will go away and leave the other psychiatric problem unchanged.
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What Does Depression Look Like
Depression can take many forms and is experienced in numerous different ways depending on the person suffering. No matter what form it takes, though, depression is so much more than just feeling down or a normal case of the blues. So if you see someone exhibiting any of the symptoms below, take some time to reach out and help them through their trials.
According to the ADAA, common symptoms of depression in children include, but are not limited to:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Low self-esteem
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Depression also has tangible, physical side effects. People who suffer from depression are 40% more likely to heart and digestive problems than those who do not experience depression, according to NAMI.
Depression and mental illness can spur numerous other problems as well. Ranging from substance abuse, unemployment, and homelessness to trouble with the law, disability, and emergency room visits, problems arising from depression and mental illness are not to be taken lightly.
The worst case scenario when it comes to depression is suicide, affecting not only the victim but also everyone who loves and cares for them. According to NAMI, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., with rates increasing 31% since 2001.
With alarming stats about suicides prevalence in the U.S., the best say to start caring for people with depression is to be open to talking about anything they are going through.