Beyond “The Blues” – Childhood Depression
October 5th is National Depression Screening Awareness Day, and most of us are aware of the way that depression can plague adults. Often overlooked is the fact that children, too, can experience depression that is far beyond mood swings and what can be called “the blues.” As many as 2-3% of children ages 6-12, and 6-8% of adolescents experience serious depression. Childhood depression is more common in boys under 10, but by age 16 it manifests itself more frequently in girls (http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-children#2).
Much like anxiety and other emotional disorders, childhood depression manifests itself differently than adults. Here are the Top 10 things to look for to help determine whether your child might be depressed:
- More irritable, sad, and withdrawn
- Experiencing significant changes in eating/sleeping patterns
- Consistently showing feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Having problems with academics for an extended period of time
- Experiencing thoughts of suicide or death – and is using cutting/self-injury to manage emotions
- Withdrawing from activities that were previously enjoyed
- Engaging in self-critical thoughts or comments
- Highly sensitive, has shame/fears of rejection
- Experiencing muscle/body aches that are nonspecific and difficult to identify the source
- Having difficulty maintaining relationships and poor communication skills
Older children and adolescents may show more moodiness and a decline in general functioning. Notice that hormonal changes occur during puberty can influence mood, but you can distinguish moodiness and hormones from clinical depression based on the length and severity of symptoms. If your child’s behaviors are significantly different than normal behavior patterns, it may be an indication that your child is depressed.
Also, take into account differences between depression in girls and boys. For example, boys tend to show more externalizing symptoms (anger/rage/behavioral problems) while girls tend to show more internalizing symptoms (withdrawal, tearfulness, low self-esteem, anxiety). Girls who reach puberty earlier are more likely to develop depression.
Younger children with depression often show behavioral issues. What looks like defiance and disrespect to a parent may actually be a sign of depression or anxiety.
A tip for parents: be mindful of any signs of suicidal thoughts for your child. This might look like directly speaking about committing suicide, giving away significant personal items (more than usual), making amends/saying goodbyes, engaging in risky behaviors, or romanticizing/joking about death and dying. Do not minimize your child’s expressions of worthlessness or suicidal thoughts. Although sometimes children use language about death to express their discontent with issues and may not always intend to harm themselves, comments should not be ignored and you should seek help right away.
If your child expresses thoughts about suicide be sure to do a brief check and ask the following questions:
- Do you intend to act on those thoughts? (i.e. “do you plan on harming yourself/killing yourself?)
- If yes, what is your plan?
If your child answers yes to these questions, take them to the nearest ER/Behavioral Health Center to be evaluated.
Childhood depression is a treatable mental illness. Consider taking your child to see a Play Therapist to help with symptom management, and coordinate with a psychiatrist as needed. Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used independently or incorporated with other modalities to help your child. There are many different approaches for treating depression, so be sure to ask your therapist about how they can help and provide support for you at home.
Remember, just because they are children, it doesn’t mean they will “grow out” of depression. It can be hereditary or caused by environment and just as significant as adult depression. If caught early, your child can learn to be a strong and resilient child and work through depression.