Children can be more emotional than adults, and a certain amount of mood swings is part of being a kid. So how can a parent tell if their child is depressed, or just a typical child with ups and downs as they navigate growing up?
1. Your child is exhibiting emotional responses that are not usual for him or her. Are they more irritable than you’ve seen them? Moping about and not wanting to play with their toys?
2.Their moods are lasting much longer than usual. or are changing far too quickly. If they were always the sort to have a quick temper tantrum but be fine an hour later, but suddenly seem stroppy for entire afternoons, it can be a sign your child is suffering anxiety or depression. So can incessant rapid changes in mood.
Don’t think that just because your kid isn’t sad he or she isn’t depressed. While adults tend to be down when depressed, children can instead become more frustrated and irritable than usual, perhaps because they don’t have the experience or understanding to describe how they are feeling.
3. Their unusual behaviour goes on for weeks. Depression is, if anything, persistent. Normal moods come and go. Depression goes on for weeks or months.
4. Their behaviour doesn’t seem connected to circumstance. If they are sad and weepy but tell you they don’t know why, or if they are angry with a sibling who has done nothing wrong, it might be a red flag. While normal grumpiness relates to an obvious incident, depression and anxiety can cause irrational emotional swings and outbursts that don’t seem based on anything.
5. Your child’s emotions are affecting their functioning on a daily basis. Have teachers reported changes in their focus or ability? Do they seem uninterested in their hobbies or friends, are they socially withdrawing? Seem oversensitive to rejection? Depression in children, like for adults, often causes one to struggle with things they once enjoyed and to feel oversensitive around others.
6. They are using a depressed perspective and phrases of doom and gloom. Children can be dramatic, naturally. But pay attention for changes in what your child talks about. For starters, does it match what is really happening to them? Are they telling you that nobody likes them even when their friends are calling them? Then look for expressions of low confidence, such as ‘I am no good at anything’, or ‘nothing good ever happens to me’. And like adults, kids, too, can have thoughts around death when depressed, saying things like ‘I wish I had never been born’.
7. Your child is exhibiting regressed behaviour. Are they suddenly whining, clinging, or otherwise acting less independent than usual? Are they sucking their thumb again, or even using babytalk? Wetting the bed again for the first time in years?
In summary, signs of depression in children can include:
changes in moods and behaviour that are unusual for them
moods that go on far longer than they used to
emotional outbursts with no apparent cause
sharing a depressed viewpoint or dark thoughts they are having
lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
struggling with day-to-day functioning
not wanting to be around other children
Depression and anxiety also cause physical signs. Ones to look out for in your child include:
development of or an increase in a nervous habit like thumb sucking or nail biting
What causes depression in children?
Often it can be a series of things working together to leave your child depressed. This can include challenging life events, a stressful environment, a genetic pre-disposal to depression, or a sudden biochemical disturbance.
School can be a very difficult environment for some children that can lead to low self-esteem and then depression. Issues that can arise can include bullying, peer pressure, and anxiety over tests and grades.
It’s now common knowledge that divorce can cause real stress for children, but it’s not the only change in family life that can lead to a child with anxiety and low moods.
Any major change in their family life can deeply upset a child, including moving home, a parent or sibling with a serious illness, or a bereavement. Even if your child claims they are fine, they might not be, as many children can be too concerned with not upsetting their parents further to be honest if they are worried or confused.
And if a major trauma occurs to a child, such as physical abuse, the anxiety and depression can surface quickly of several years later.
Children with a parent who suffers from depression are at a 25% greater risk than other children of developing depression. If both parents have suffered from depression, that raises to a 75% chance they too will have issues with their moods. So if so if you or your partner have a history of emotional issues it is something to consider.
What should I do if I think my child is depressed?
First of all, don’t blame them – or yourself. Parenting is difficult, and growing up is difficult.
Your positive attitude will help your child want to move forward and feel better, whereas if you are stressed, this might make them feel guilty and possibly add to their anxiety.
Instead of blaming yourself and looking backwards at ‘what you could have done’, look forward at ‘what can be done’.
Don’t trivialise what they share. Even if to you what they are upset over seems silly, to your child, it might be something very overwhelming.
The very act of letting your child know you are there for them and that they are loved can go a long way to help alleviate their distress.
The issue might actually be something simple that you can sort out with your child.
If you are still worried, seek support and help. You can book an appointment with your GP who can refer you to the appropriate mental health care professional. This can include counseling for your child, family therapy, or Cognitive behavioural therapy.
Depression left untreated has been found to actually affect the shape of the brain in a way which means your child might have increasing troubles regulating emotions as they get older. This might lead to a greater risk of substance abuse and problem behaviour as a teenager. So with children, early diagnosis and treatment of depression is important.
Not only does therapy give your child someone safe to talk to that they don’t have to worry about upsetting, it also gives them valuable life skills. This includes learning to problem solve, learning to communicate, learning to handle stress, and learning to understand how they feel. Investing in therapy for your child might not only help their depression, but boost their confidence and set them up to more easily and happily navigate their upcoming adolescent years.
Do you have experience or advice about being the parent of a depressed child that you would like to share? Do so below, we love hearing from you.
Images by Shawn Campbell, Steve Depelo, Catnapping, TheeErin, Spirit Fire