Guest blog post by Stephanie Gutzmer, Au.D., E-RYT
Depression is not only an adult illness; children and adolescents can be affected by it as well. However, much of childhood depression goes untreated because symptoms of childhood depression are different than that of adults. Childhood depression can begin in early childhood, but because it is unrecognized, diagnosis and treatment are more common with increased age. Which is why every parent should know these warning signs of childhood depression.
18 Warning Signs of Childhood Depression
- Irritable mood
- Increased frequency or severity of tantrums, for younger children
- Defiant attitude
- Declining grades
- Physical somatic complaints like stomachaches or headaches
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Decreased appetite or significant weight loss
- Lack of energy or fatigue
- Restlessness or decreased physical movement
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or low self-esteem
- Social isolation
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Obsessive fears or worries about death
- Reckless behavior
- Substance use
Yes, a lot of these symptoms are familiar during puberty; however, it may not just be a phase for your child. If your child has any combination of these symptoms that are on a consistent, daily basis, lasting for weeks to months, it may not be part of typical development. It may be a sign of depression.
To receive a diagnosis, your child must exhibit five or more symptoms for at least two weeks. If your child is showing any signs of childhood depression, it is crucial to follow-up with a pediatrician, to rule out potential health issues, and with a mental health professionals.
Related Reading: 7 Strategies for Helping Your Child Cope with Grief and Loss
Counseling for Childhood Depression
A mental health professional is a valuable asset when working towards managing depressive symptoms in children. Younger children often lack the language to verbalize their moods, feelings, or experiences. Older
children may resist talking about depression because of embarrassment or fear of being different.
A child therapist is trained to work with your child to address thought processes or actions that may be contributing to their depression. A counselor can help your child identify and replace negative thoughts, help overcome fears, and address problematic behaviors.
Child psychologists and counselors can also help foster lifestyle changes that effectively help manage feelings of depression. This may include stress management techniques, regular physical exercise, relaxation techniques, and building a stronger social support system.
A counselor is in a unique position when compared to parents because they are a neutral person for the child. Talking, sharing, and being vulnerable with a counselor is easier to do than with a related superior, like a parent.
Related Reading: 12 Ways to Practice Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety
Causes of Depression
Even though your child may not have to worry about “adult” issues, like bills or work, it doesn’t mean they don’t experience stress. Anyone can develop depression. If your child is showing signs of depression, it isn’t a weakness in your child, and it isn’t necessarily your fault as a parent or caregiver.
Stressful life events contribute to depression; however, they may be a small piece of the overall puzzle of causes. Here are some risk factors that contribute to childhood depression:
- Brain chemistry: imbalances in particular neurotransmitters and hormones can change how the brain works, affecting moods and emotions that increase the risk of depression. This can be especially true as your child comes into puberty.
- Family history: those with a family history of depression have an increased risk than those who do not.
- Stress or trauma: sudden changes, like divorce or moving, can cause significant stress for children, which in turn contributes to depressive symptoms. Additionally, childhood trauma, such as abuse, assault, or neglect, can trigger depression.
- Environmental factors: similarly to the reasons above, stressful, chaotic, or unstable homes create a stressful environment for children, making them more likely to experience depression. However, it isn’t just the home environment that needs to be considered. Rejection and bullying at school can also be a contributing factor. According to Alice Ann Holland, researcher and pediatric neuropsychologist, chronic anxiety is one of the most common risk factors for depression.
Related Reading: 9 Reasons Anxiety Disorders in Teens is On the Rise
Proactive Steps if Your Child Shows Signs of Childhood Depression
Learning about childhood depression, recognizing the signs, and understanding why children develop depression is crucial for parents, teachers, and caregivers. When recognized, you can intervene sooner. Here are some proactive steps you can start now with your child:
- Discuss the importance of taking care of his or her body and how doing so helps support their minds. Eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of exercises, and getting full nights of sleep are all beneficial for mental health
- Predictable and consistent schedules can help your child better manage stress. Part of this is ensuring your child has a regular sleep schedule. Make sure they go to sleep and wake up about the same time each day.
- Help your child develop a social support system by encouraging them to participate in sports, clubs, or activities. It’s important, however, to ensure you aren’t over-scheduling your child’s day, as over-scheduling contributes to the overall stress and worsens depressive symptoms.
- Teach your child self-regulation skills. This includes skills for managing their emotions, for solving problems, and for coping with failure and setbacks. If you aren’t sure how to do this, consult with a mental health counselor.
- Don’t make discussing mental health or depression taboo in your house. It is crucial to develop an environment where staying healthy is a family priority, and where communication lines are open to problem solve and strategize on how to maintain health. Talk to your child in a non-judgmental way about what they are feeling and experiencing.
Support for You and Your Child
If your child is showing signs of childhood depression, support is available. Your child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. And you will most likely need to take the first steps to help them through. Providing a supportive home and environment is a great first step – but not the only step. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, considering reaching out to one of our counselors at Life Care Wellness at (630) 423-5935. We have offices in Glen Ellyn, Chicago (Jefferson Park), and Sycamore, Illinois.