What is Depression?
Depression is more than having a bad day or feeling blue—it can take a serious toll on an individual’s life. Depression can be even more overwhelming when your child is the one experiencing it. Children may experience depression for a variety of reasons, but it often results from a major change or trauma the child has gone through. If your child is depressed it is important to understand the symptoms and treatment options available. This article will teach you what to look for and the next steps to take if a child you know is experiencing depression.
Depression affects more than just the individual experiencing it. As a parent, depression in your child may be confusing. You may be asking:
- Why is my child depressed?
- What do I need to do next?
- Is it my fault?
- Will they struggle forever?
Trying to interact with a child who is depressed can sometimes feel like a lost cause. As a parent you try and talk with your child and figure out what is wrong so you can help them. Your child may not understand what is going on or how to communicate their feelings. This can leave you frustrated with “I don’t know” answers. Siblings may also be confused about what is happening in their family. It is the elephant in the room that no one knows how to handle.
What Causes Depression?
Depression is often not attributed to one specific event but usually a series of events. Biologically, one of the contributors to depression is a lowered level of neurotransmitters in the brain. These carry signals through the brain that cause one to feel good. Situations like divorce, loss of a loved one, serious illness, moving, intense periods of stress, and even school performance can be contributing factors to depression.
Recognizing Symptoms of Depression in Your Child:
Some of the symptoms of depression in children are as follows. It is important to remember that your child may not have all of these but still may be dealing with depression.
- Change in eating habits: eating significantly more or less than usual – not otherwise attributed to a growth spurt
- Change in sleeping patterns: sleeping significantly more or having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Change in mood: the child is often more irritable, sad, or angry
- Decrease in energy level: your typically spunky child is now more sedate
- Loss of interest: Decreased desire or motivation to participate in activities the child once enjoyed
- Low self-esteem: this may show up as negative self-talk – “I’m stupid” or “I’m ugly”
- Hopelessness: your child may not see the future getting any better for them
- Social withdrawal: not socializing or spending time with friends
- Increased sensitivity to perceived rejection: believing that most people around them will reject them
- Physical complaints that don’t respond to treatment (i.e. Stomach pains, increased headaches)
- Increase in crying over situations that may seem benign (i.e. not liking dinner)
- Disruptions at school: either academically or behaviorally
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How to help:
- Talk with your child. Open communication is vital. Reassure your child. Let them know that you’re there for them and you are willing to walk through this with them – they do not have to do this alone.
- Find a therapist willing to listen to both you and your child. Walking through depression with your child needs to be a collaborative effort.
- Connect with a friend. You, as the parent, need someone to walk through this with you. Find a friend who can be encouraging.
What about medication?
Just because your child is feeling depressed or going through depression does not necessarily mean they need to be on medication. This is a conversation you need to have with your child’s physician or psychiatrist. Medication is best utilized in conjunction with therapy.
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