Depression is an illness that can affect children and adolescents as well as adults. Although for many years it was never thought that children could become depressed clinicians now realise that even young children, below the age of 5, can suffer from depression. The good news is that depression in children and adolescents is quite treatable, but not if it goes unrecognised by the adults in their lives. In this article I will discuss the common symptoms of depression in children and in adolescents. I will conclude by giving some advice about what to do if you think your child may be depressed.
Depression in Children
It is important for parents, carers and teachers to remember that it is through their behaviour that children communicate with us. Rarely do they come out and say things directly about their emotions or moods. We see them looking sad or angry; we observe them withdrawing from their circle of friends or favourite activities. These little signs are often the first hints we may get that something is wrong with the inner life of the child.
Children who are depressed will sometimes display some of the following symptoms:
- Crying, feeling sad, helpless or hopeless
- Feeling discouraged or worthless
- Loss of interest or pleasure in others or most activities
- Fatigue and loss of energy nearly every day
- Bad temper, irritable, easily annoyed
- Fearful, tense, anxious
- Repeated rejection by other children
- Drop in school performance
- Inability to sit still, fidgeting or pacing
- Repeated emotional outbursts, shouting or complaining
- Doesn't talk to other children
- Repeated physical complaints without medical cause (headaches, stomach aches, aching arm or legs)
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite (not due to appropriate dieting)
- Change in sleep habits
Signs that must be taken extremely seriously include:
- Suicidal thoughts, feelings or self-harming behaviour
- Abuse or prolonged use of alcohol or other drugs
- Symptoms of depression combined with strange or unusual behaviour
Depression in Adolescents
Adolescence is a time of turmoil under the best of conditions. The many changes in the body and mind, the challenges of school and family and peers, can all add up to an overwhelming pressure on a teenager. When teens get depressed they are, like younger children, more likely to show us than tell us. Interestingly, one of the first sings of simmering depression in teens is when they complain of being "bored" with activities, school and friends that used to give them pleasure.
Adolescents who are depressed will sometimes exhibit some of the following symptoms,
o Sadness or hopelessness
o Irritability, anger, or hostility
o Tearfulness or frequent crying
o Withdrawal from friends and family
o Loss of interest in activities
o Changes in eating and sleeping habits
o Restlessness and agitation
o Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
o Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
o Fatigue or lack of energy
o Difficulty concentrating
o Thoughts of death or suicide
When depression becomes more severe teenagers will sometimes give away their favourite CD's, video games, or any things they have that are special to them. They will often explain they just don't need them anymore.
When Suicide is becoming a Possibility
Children will often act recklessly, taking risks on the playgroup or the road which are unusual for them. Teenager will often write stories or songs expression unusual interest in the afterlife or death. There signs must be taken seriously.
What to Do?
If you have any reason to think your child or teenager is depressed don't hesitate to contact your GP immediately. Help is only a phone call away. Depression responds well to psychological interventions. My next article will outline some of the more common treatments for depression in children and teens.