You can find endless research showing the increasing prevalence of depression among children, adolescents and teens. There are various types of depression and reasons for onset. It is crucial for adults to learn how to recognize the signs of depression in children.
Symptoms vary from child to child and between genders. Some children may “act out” as a sign of depression, while others might “withdraw.” It is common to feel helpless when you see your child suffering and you are unsure how to help. Please remember that there is not one right way that works for every parent or child. Your child is unique and you know your child best.
If you notice any of the following signs in your child it is important to act on your concerns.
• Irritability, anger or hostility most of the day and most days within the week
• Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
• Isolation and/or loss of interest in things that usually are enjoyed such as spending time with friends or activities
• Low energy and loss of motivation to do most anything
• Drop in grades and/or negative reports from school on academics/behavior
• Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt
• Frequent complaints of physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches
• Self injurious behavior
• Any suicidal ideation-thoughts of suicide, talking about or interest in suicide (if any suicidal ideation is present please seek immediate professional assistance)
When approaching your child and discussing your concerns, try to stay non-judgmental and don’t try to “fix” or “solve” the problem. Focus on creating a safe zone for your child to discuss his or her concerns, worries and problems. When your child shares concerns with you listen and seek to clarify. Ask open-ended questions opposed to ones that warrant yes or no answers.
Ask how he/she thinks they could solve the problem or what a solution might be. If you get the ever famous “I don’t know,” share a story about yourself when you experienced a similar feeling or situation and how you handled it. It’s natural to share a story from a time in your life that you were the same age. However, especially for adolescents and teenagers, this could cause them to close off. They could see this as discounting their issue. Instead, try sharing a story from adulthood. This allows them to recognize that even as an adult you experience similar situations, feelings and emotions. This can help build a connection and give them an opportunity to see you as a person, not just their parent.
I encourage parents to make feelings and problem solving dialogue part of their regular conversations with their children. When parents share openly children see all feelings as normal and acceptable. They learn that they are not expected to always be happy or act happy.
If you are concerned that your child might be experiencing a form of depression and you are unsure how to proceed, please reach out for assistance. There are many professionals within our community that can help you and your family get through this difficult time. There are also various resources available to offer guidance.
By Emily Tonn, RMHCI