A wise person once commented that a parent is only as happy as her unhappiest child.  It can be an incredibly awful, helpless feeling when the child you love becomes someone you’re not sure you understand.

Potential Signs of Depression in Kids

One of the tricky things about depression in kids is that it may not present like you expect.  When asked to describe someone depressed, most people will say that depressed people are sad, weepy, and listless.  Depressed children — on the other hand — may come across more angry or surly.  In fact, they can have intense outbursts and behavior problems that people can misconstrue as bad or bratty behavior, worthy more of punishment than of treatment.  Familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of depression is a good start in making sure your child gets the treatment she or he may need.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of symptoms of possible depression in children:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Lack of enjoyment in things that were once enjoyable
  • Irritable and quick to anger
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep (either more or markedly less)
  • Sustained sadness or hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Low energy
  • Somatic complaints like stomachaches and headaches
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Vocal outbursts

If you’re concerned that your child may be depressed, here are some things you can do to start getting down to the bottom of it:

1) Diagnose change, not depression.  You don’t have to diagnose the depression yourself; a doctor or clinician who has specialized assessments can do that.  You just need to diagnose change.  Does your child not seem like him or herself?  Is she retreating to her room for long stretches?  Is he lashing out for the smallest of perceived slights?  You know what is normal for your child and what is not; in that way, you can be your child’s first line of defense in catching the depression.

2) Gather information.  Talk to your child to see how she is feeling, though don’t be surprised if it is hard for her to articulate it or if you get very terse answers.  Regardless of how much information your child shares, ask for observations from other adults in her life.  You don’t have to ask if they think your child is depressed; ask for comments on how your child seems to be feeling and functioning.  You can say something like, “I have been worried that Becky doesn’t seem like herself.  Have you noticed any changes?”

3) Gather names of professional therapists in your area who specialize in children’s mental health.  Some folks take their child to the doctor as their first stop but doctors often lack time and expertise in how to talk with a child who may be depressed.  Your pediatrician may, however, be able to give you the names of therapists she recommends.  The therapist locator on Psychology Today can also help you find professionals in your area.

4) Schedule an evaluation with a therapist.  Don’t mess around with childhood depression; take it seriously.

Let your child know that you’re concerned something is bothering him and that you’ve scheduled a visit with a counselor, an adult who works with children to work out problems and help them feel better.  Some child therapists will have photos on their website of their offices and play therapy spaces; allow your child to see these pictures if they’re available.  Assure your child that it’s normal to be nervous before you talk to someone new but that you will be in the waiting room right outside if anything comes up.

Recovery from childhood depression is definitely possible; staying alert to signs and symptoms and following your instincts are great ways to begin nipping your child’s mood spiral in the bud.

Want to read more about childhood depression?  WebMD has a comprehensive article here.

Need some support yourself?  It can be really tough to watch your child struggle and sometimes they are not the only ones in the family who could use help.  If you think you may be experiencing depression, too, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  The therapists at Nova Terra Therapy can help support you through your emotional struggles, in addition to supporting your parenting.