Is my child depressed?
There is no doubt that growing up can be an emotional rollercoaster for many young people. Youngsters can face a whole host of highs and lows during childhood and adolescence, which can be related to lots of different parts of their lives including school, friends, family, sexuality and puberty.
However, if you notice that your child seems to be experiencing more 'lows' than 'highs', with these occurring more frequently than you'd expect, it may be that he or she is suffering from depression.
Mental health difficulties, including depression, don't just affect adults; in fact, they are becoming increasingly common in children and young people. Recent studies suggest that nearly one in four young people will experience the symptoms of depression before they reach the age of 19.
It can be extremely upsetting to watch your child struggle with persistent low moods and sadness. If you think that your child may be depressed, it is important to know that you are not alone, and the most important first step is to seek help.
What is depression?
Whilst it is normal for everyone, children and adults alike, to feel sad and upset from time-to-time, those suffering from depression experience intense and enduring low moods.
These low moods can be so severe that they can prevent sufferers from experiencing pleasure, reduce their interest in activities or hobbies that they once enjoyed, and impair their ability to function effectively on a day-to-day basis.
If depression is left untreated, it can result in a range of long-term problems and have a very detrimental impact on an individual's quality of life.
Signs that your child may be depressed
The symptoms of depression in children can be categorised according to the psychological, social and physical impact that they have. If you notice that your child is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, it may be that he or she is struggling with depression:
Psychological symptoms of depression in children:
- Persistent sadness, or low mood that doesn't seem to go away
- Being 'grumpy', irritable or angry all the time
- Crying more than usual
- Poor concentration
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Being highly sensitive to bad news or rejection
- Talking about feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Low confidence or self-esteem
- Talking about feeling empty or numb
- Suicidal thoughts and impulses
- Older children may abuse drugs or alcohol
Social symptoms of depression in children:
- Lacking interest in activities or hobbies that they once enjoyed
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- A decline in school performance
- Demonstrating problem behaviour at school
Physical symptoms of depression in children:
- Frequent headaches and stomach aches
- Unexplained digestive problems
- Being unable to sleep, or sleeping more than usual
- Eating more or less than usual
- Weight fluctuations
- Feeling tired and exhausted all the time
- Being restless or unable to sit still
- Being more lethargic than usual
Why is my child depressed?
There are a number of factors that may cause children to become depressed, including:
- Having a family history of depression or other mental health conditions
- Experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- Growing up in an unstable family environment
- Experiencing traumatic or difficult life events e.g. parents separating, bereavement
I think that my child is depressed - what are the next steps?
The thought of your child suffering with depression can be overwhelming, especially if you lack personal experience with mental health concerns. It is normal to feel helpless and frustrated, and as though you don't know where to turn.
You may find the following steps useful:
Talk to your child - if you think that your child may be depressed, it's important to talk to try and find out how they are feeling and what is troubling them. If your child doesn't want to talk to you, let them know that you are concerned about them and encourage them to speak to someone else that they trust such as another family member or a teacher. You could also contact your child's school to see if they have noticed any changes in your child's behaviour.
Be open and listen - if your child does want to talk to you about their problems, it is important to be open with them and listen to what they have to say. This lets your child know that they are not alone and that that it's OK to talk about the difficult emotions that they are feeling.
Take them seriously - if you have never experienced depression, it can be difficult to understand how your child is feeling. Something that may not seem to be a big deal to you could be a major problem for your child, which is why it's important to take them seriously and avoid being critical. Responding to your child's needs in a non-judgemental way shows them that you recognise that what they're going through is difficult, even if you can't relate to it yourself.
Learn about the symptoms of childhood depression - not only will this will help you to empathise with your child, but will also mean that you are able to spot the warning signs and recognise when your child is going through a particularly difficult time.
Seek professional help - it is hugely important to seek professional help if you think that your child is depressed. This will ensure that your child receives the dedicated support that they need, in order to prevent their depression from becoming a long-term problem. Make an appointment to see your GP with your child; your GP will be able to recommend next steps and any necessary onward referrals.