Depression in Children

Childhood depression is very different from the usual blues and feelings of sadness that most children will experience at some time during childhood. Although many children will feel down occasionally, when that extends into them not wanting to go out, not wanting to interact with their family or friends, having difficulty at school or being unable to take part in their usual social activities, that could give an indication of clinical depression.

Childhood depression symptoms tend to be very similar to depression symptoms in adults, but what differentiates the two is that children may act out their depression in the form of anger or misbehavior. Other symptoms of childhood depression include: constant low mood, constant sadness, hopelessness, mood changes, irritability, withdrawing from friends or social activity, difficulty in concentrating, crying often, vocal outbursts, cutting themselves off from their family, increased sensitivity to criticism, low energy, suicidal thoughts or attempts and a reduced ability to function ‘normally’ in social situations. Although all of these symptoms are common, not all children with depression will deal with all of these symptoms.

Depression in children and treating depression in children is very close to my heart as I have a younger sibling who was recently diagnosed with severe depression. For a long time, we thought that the symptoms she was displaying were ‘normal’  and that her behavior was just usual teenage behavior. She would stay in her room listening to music and drawing and would rarely interact with the family. She’d also not show much interest in going out with her friends and complained that no-one liked her. One day, around six months ago, she told my mother that she’d been self-harming and that she had thought about killing herself.

Our dismissal of her symptoms made us all feel incredibly guilty. We had written off the way she was behaving as typical teenage behavior, when in reality she was harming herself with blades, knives and whatever sharpened bit of plastic she could get her hands on.

After her revelations, we took her to the doctor as she’d said that the reason she told us was because she wanted help in dealing with her emotions and that she wanted to learn how to adequately deal with those emotions, rather than resorting to harming herself. After a gentle chat with the doctor and an explanation into what depression is and how it could be treated, she is now in the process of recovering from her depression in therapy. But that’s not to say she’s completely better – she still harms herself whenever she’s feeling down, but she has been told how to do this in a safe way to prevent serious damage to herself.

The first thing you should do if you suspect that your child is depressed is to talk to them about it. Attempt to encourage them to be able to talk to you. Once those communication channels are opened, you can begin to understand why they are feeling the way they are and your child can begin to feel as though they can confide in you about your problems. Often, one of the things that makes depression worse is feeling as though you have no-one to turn to – and this is often the case with childhood depression. As soon as possible after you’ve spoken to your child, you need to speak to your doctor. The sooner treatment begins and your child’s condition is addressed, the sooner they can begin to become well again. If your child is harming themselves or has spoken about harming themselves, it’s vitally important that you go to your doctor as soon as possible to minimize the risk of them seriously hurting themselves.

Treatment for depression in children usually begins with counseling to address why the child is suffering from depression. However, if counseling is found to not be effective in treating the depression, anti-depressants may be used, although this only tends to be in severe cases.

For more information on childhood depression, speak to your doctor.