Learn How to Tell if Your Child Is Depressed and the Best Ways to Help

Does your child seem unusually sad, irritable or quiet lately? Such changes in mood could be due to a temporary stress in life. But how do you know if it’s something more?

It’s important for parents and caregivers to understand the risk factors for depression in children, which can include anxiety, family history of mental disorders, hormonal changes in puberty and life stressors.

What are risk factors for childhood depression?

“Chronic anxiety is one of the most common risk factors we see for depression in children,” explains Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP. “This is anxiety that hasn’t been properly diagnosed or treated for anywhere from months to years, which wears children down emotionally over time.”

Risk factors for childhood depression can include life stressors such as:

  • Changing to a new school
  • Conflict in the home
  • Dealing with bullying – in person or on social media
  • Dealing with medical issues
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Starting school

In addition to the above life stressors, adolescents and teens may also deal with the following situations that can trigger depression:

  • Academic stress, especially related to college admissions
  • Athletic performance pressure
  • Dating relationships, including negative relationships and breakups
  • Sleep deprivation

Is my child depressed?

Symptoms of depression can vary in children and are different from a temporary change in mood or sadness. If your child displays signs of depression lasting more than two weeks, or if symptoms seem to occur around the same time as certain stressors (such as tests) or at certain times of the week (such as Sunday evenings before the school week starts), anxiety or depression may be the cause.

Signs of depression in children

Signs of depression in children age 12 and younger may include the following:

  • Decreased interest in favorite activities
  • Difficulty initiating and/or maintaining social relationships
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Frequent absences from school and/or a sudden decline in grades
  • Physical symptoms with no medical cause
  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness or crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased frequency or severity of tantrums (for younger children)
  • Major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Obsessive fears or worries about death
  • Social isolation
  • Talking about or attempting to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-harming behavior
  • Trouble concentrating

Signs of depression in teens

Signs of depression in adolescents age 13 to 18 may include all of the above, plus:

  • Increased interest in topics related to death
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred
  • Substance use
  • Short temper
  • Trouble making decisions

How can I help my child with depression?

If you’re concerned that your child may be experiencing symptoms of depression, consider the following steps to help:

  • Start by talking with your child: On a regular basis, ask them about how they’re doing in all aspects of their life. Still, if concerns do arise, don’t assume your child will tell you if they’re feeling depressed. Young children in particular have difficulty putting their feelings into words. Adolescents and teens may feel ashamed or embarrassed about acknowledging feelings of depression. With children of all ages, parents should convey their concern and ask questions in a loving, supportive way.
  • Get other adults engaged: Speak with your child’s teachers, coaches and anyone else who works with your child regularly. Ask them if they’ve noticed any changes in your child’s mood or behavior. Request they keep an eye on your child and let you know about any out-of-the-ordinary behavior.
  • Consult with a mental health professional: You can go alone to meet with a mental health professional – such as a school psychologist, counselor, therapist or psychiatrist – to discuss your concerns about your child. In speaking with you, this specialist may be able to help you discern if your child is dealing with chronic anxiety, coping with a temporary life stressor, exhibiting typical behavior for their age or is demonstrating symptoms of depression.

Excerpted from “Signs of depression in children” from Children’s Health. Read the full article online for additional details.

Source: Children’s Health | Signs of depression in children, https://www.childrens.com/health-wellness/signs-of-depression-in-children | © 2021 Children’s Health

If you have concerns about your child, CHC Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30-minute consultation so you can explore options with an expert. We invite you to call or email us at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Parent Consultation appointment. CHC teletherapy services are available now.

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