If you suffer from depression, or have ever suffered from depression, then you know how difficult it can be to manage and treat. And if you’re a parent, then it would probably break your heart to know that your own child is depressed. Children routinely go through emotional highs and lows and periods of sadness or discontent. But if those feelings persist, it’s possible that your child is depressed. Experts estimate that as many as 3% of children and 8% of adolescence in the country suffer from depression; it’s actually most common in boys under the age of 10, but by the teen years, depression is more common in girls. If you’re concerned that your child is suffering from depression, or you just want to know the warning signs in case it happens, here’s what you need to know.
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 can depression in children be treated?
Just as with adults, there are treatment options available to kids who suffer from depression. Many will respond positively to psychotherapy. But other children may need a bit more help, and their medical team may discuss other treatment options like medication. Antidepressants are typically suggested if the child shows no improvement after undergoing therapy.
We certainly understand the hesitation to start your child on antidepressants. But many medications on the market have shown to be effective at treating depression in children. Prozac is approved for use in kids between the ages of 8 and 18. Studies show that the most successful treatment plans for depression in children include a combination of psychotherapy and medication. And remember, just because your child needs antidepressants now, it doesn’t mean they’ll be on medication for the rest of their lives.
How can you help your child if you suspect they are suffering from depression?
It’s so important to talk to your child about emotions and moods and depression. Many kids will still feel most comfortable opening to their parent first about how they’re feeling. Listen to them, love them, and show them support. Your next step should be a call to their pediatrician or family doctor, who can complete a full physical exam to determine that there are no physical conditions that could be contributing to their change in mood. Your doctor can then refer your child to a mental health specialist, who can begin developing the right treatment plan for your child. It can take some time to find the right therapist and medical support team to help your child through depression, but don’t give up! The right doctor is out there, and with the right treatment plan and a loving, supportive environment at home, your child can find their way through this.
Aside from getting them professional help, providing a loving, supportive home and making sure your child is eating well and getting plenty of sleep can be so beneficial for your child. Be patient with them, and above all else, be kind and understanding.