Here's how you can tell if your child is suffering from depression
Research reveals children as young as 6 can suffer from depression. What are the signs to look out for in kids?
Children, like adults, go through good and bad days. Sometimes, they are in lousy moods, get irritable, anxious, or worried. When someone or something bothers them, they may take a few hours or a couple of days to get over.
However, unlike adults, children are more in touch with their innate joy and have lesser baggage weighing them down. This allows them to bounce back from adversity with a certain innocence and gusto that is at once endearing and inspiring. When a young child is exposed to factors that make them distrust those around them or when something interrupts their daily routine regularly, they are likely to develop more serious concerns.
When is it depression?
Depressed children, on the other hand, have more pronounced symptoms. Here are the signs to look out for:
- Persistent sadness or a low mood that continues for more than three-four days
- Being irritable or grumpy for most of the day
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Not laughing, giggling, being up to usual mischief
- Physically tired, low energy
Changes in appetite and sleep could be due to physical illnesses. Please ensure you visit a doc to rule out effects of an ailment.
- A change in appetite: Young children are more likely to lose their appetite than overeat. However, older children can have increased or decreased appetite.
- Change in sleep pattern: Insomnia, disturbed sleep, nightmares or sleeping through the day
- Physical complaints: Stomach ache, headache, constipation or upset tummy that do not respond to treatment
- Self-harm: Cutting oneself or engaging in reckless behavior (putting oneself in danger)
- Refusing to go out to play, socialize, engage with people
- Difficulty concentrating on a single task for more than a few minutes
- Being indecisive or unsure about day-to-day choices
- A dip in confidence and self-worth
- Feeling guilty for small things
- Feeling worthless or undeserving of love, attention
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Repeated angry outbursts
- Feeling anxious, fearful for no reason
- Finding it difficult to relax, have a good time
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What causes depression?
The debate over genetic causes for depression isn't over yet. But what we know for sure is that there is a combination of environmental, emotional and social factors that can cause depression in children. Chief among them are:
- Lack of physical strokes and intimacy with mother/primary caregiver (especially during the first few months)
- Bullying by peers/older kids
- Consistent criticism from parents (especially when it isn't balanced by positive feedback and open display of affection)
- Absentee parent/parents (Emotionally unavailable parents)
Which children are at risk of depression?
- Children whose family members are depressed or suffer from other physical or mental illnesses
- Children with a family history of violence
- Children with alcoholic parent/parents
- Children who are subject to physical or sexual abuse (They are at greater risk for suicide.)
- Children who are bullied
- Children who are observers (not recipients) of violence
- Frequent friction/fight between parents
Debate over childhood depression
Some experts believe that preteens' brains are yet to wired strongly enough to have an actual chemical change that causes depression. Instead, children under 12 might actually be in the process of wiring their brain in a way that makes them susceptible to lifelong depression.
Facts to know
It could run in the family. Children of parents whose depression is undiagnosed is more likely to be depressed than those getting treatment.
It is more common than you think. Although experts are only beginning to focus on how depression plays out in children, there is enough evidence to prove that it is more common than we believe it is.
Irritability rather than withdrawal is a primary symptom. Tantrums are not uncommon in children, but those depressed are likely to have very low tolerance to new and familiar environments/stimuli.
It often goes unnoticed. The symptoms could get mixed up with those of social or seperation anxiety.
Treatment is harder than it is for adults. Therapists and counselors usually rely on talk therapy to process through difficult emotions and disturbing thoughts. Children may not be able to express what they feel clearly. They might not be aware of what is bothering them, making it harder for child specialists to treat them.
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