Depression in Children: Symptoms and Ways to Help

Similar to adults, children can experience depression. Childhood depression is different from the usual mood and emotional changes that happen as kids grow. In other words, if a child looks sad, it does not signify depression. But when the sadness goes on for some time, or the child develops unusual behavior that interferes with normal activities like homework, hobbies, social life or family relationships, it could be a symptom of depression. But don’t be afraid, because, although depression is a serious disease, it can be treated.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression in Children?

According to children’s psychiatrists, any of the following symptoms can mean that your child is suffering from depression:

  • Constant sadness, crying or tearfulness
  • Discouragement
  • Lower interest in hobbies and otherwise favorite activities
  • Constant dull spirit, low energy, and loneliness. Apparent inability to experience joy is a hallmark of depression.
  • Self-isolation and poor communication so that the child has no motivation to play or take part in social activities
  • Low self-confidence and apparent guilt. If you ask such kids if they feel important, they are likely to say no.  
  • Heightened sensitivity to failure or rejection
  • Increased hostility, anger and irritability
  • Having trouble connecting with others
  • Constant complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
  • Absence from, or poor performance in school work
  • Reduced focus
  • Major changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Trying to or talking about leaving home
  • Thinking or talking about self-harm or suicide

Experts advise that you need to know your child so that you can notice any changes in behavior. And when such changes happen, don’t ignore them.

And whenever you are worried about your child, take him/her for a checkup. Be in tune with your child and use your gut feeling. These are signs of good parenting.

In most cases, parents take the child to a pediatrician. Others go directly to a child psychologist or child psychiatrist. However, don’t choose immediate treatment. Opt, instead, for a proper diagnosis first.

How Is Depression in Children Diagnosed?

When symptoms of depression go on for more than two weeks, you should probably arrange a meeting with the child’s doctor to ensure that there are no physical causes of the depression. This will ensure that your child gets appropriate treatment. Consulting with a children mental healthcare specialist is also advised.

Mental health assessment will consist of an interview with you or the child’s primary caregiver. A psychological test may also be done. You may need to collect information from teachers, school friends, and best friends. This will be useful for determining whether the symptoms are constant during your child’s different activities and whether there is a deviation from previous behavior patterns.

While there is no specific medical or psychological test to confirm a case of childhood depression, tools like questionnaires for the parent and the child, in addition to personal information about the child, can help to diagnose depression in your kid. In some cases, therapy sessions and questionnaires can lead to the discovery of other problems like ADHD, OCD, and conduct disorder; that could be contributing to the depression.

How Can Childhood Depression Be Treated?

Treatment for depression in children is similar to that for adults. Treatment options include counseling (psychotherapy), medicines and a combination of both. The seriousness of the symptoms will often determine the treatment that the mental health specialist recommends for your kid. For instance, in the case of mild symptoms, the first treatment option might be psychotherapy, and probably antidepressants if there is no improvement with the therapy sessions.

Many antidepressants are available in the market. FDA has approved fluoxetine for children aged at least 8 years, and escitalopram for children aged 12 years and older. It is worth to note that antidepressant medication should be used with caution. Some patients may not have improvements after taking them and may get even worse than before medication.

What Can You Do to Help Your Child?

Parents play an important role in the treatment of childhood depression. You can help with your kid in the following ways.

1. Promote Health

  • The foundation of good mental health includes a healthy, balanced diet, adequate sleep, physical exercise, and healthy relationships with people, at both home and school.
  • Limit your child’s screen time and encourage taking part in physical activities and interaction with others.

2. Help Your Child Learn Thinking and Coping Skills

  • Assist your child to find relaxation through exercising and creativity. Concentrate on your child’s strengths.
  • Always listen and talk to your kid with love and understanding. Encourage him/her to express internal feelings.
  • Teach your child to always look at the positive aspect of a problem.
  • Break down any problems or chores into smaller parts so that the kid can complete them with minimum stress.

3. Stick to the Treatment

  • Always be on track with your kid’s treatment. Ensure that your kid is not skipping therapy and takes the medicine.
  • Note that, while treatment works, it may take some time. And because the child suffering from depression may not acknowledge improvement, you need to offer encouragement.
  • Make a list of friends and professionals to call in case you are overwhelmed.

4. Provide Safety and Security

  • Have a discussion with your kid if he/she is bullied. Being bullied is a big problem and can be the origin of mental health problems in kids.
  • Lock up any weapons or drugs, including non-prescription ones.
  • Watch for suicide risk clues like talking about self-destruction with a person or on the internet, thinking about death, substance abuse, etc.

5. Enjoy Time Together

Spend quality time with your kid; do things that you both love. Take a walk around the park, play games, make meals, read stories, and watch TV. Be the influence of positive emotions and moods that your kid needs, and by that, you can help him/her to overcome the depressive moods.

6. Be Patient and Kind

When depression in children impacts them to do irritating and grumpy stuff, you can get frustrated and angry. However, you need to realize that these moods are parts of depression, not disrespect. Try to avoid fighting, talking or acting harshly. Always be patient and try to understand your kid. Healthy relationships strengthen the child’s resolve against depression.

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