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How Do I Know My Child Is Depressed?


Just like adults, children can feel sad and get into bad moods from time to time. In fact, it's part of human nature to have these feelings no matter your age. However, if your child is feeling down for long stretches of time or these symptoms make it difficult to carry on daily activities, he or she may be suffering from depression.

Depression is a illness that you should take seriously. It is highly treatable, but if left unaddressed in children, it can lead to significant problems down the road. Similar to depression in adults, kids can experience moodiness, difficulty socializing, tiredness, problems with schoolwork, a loss of interest in hobbies or activities they once loved, problems concentrating, and an increase in or lack of sleep and appetite. There may be feelings of rejection, worthlessness and seeming unloveable, which is also comparable to depression in adults.

a young boy looking sad while looking at his bike's wheelChildhood depression is more common than you think.

Understanding childhood depression

However, because kids tend to be moody and irritable in general at times, it can be tough for parents to recognize the signs of depression, according to the Nemours Foundation. WebMD also refers to early medical studies showing "masked" depression where children express their depression symptoms through angry outbursts. However, once these signs are detected and addressed, childhood depression is highly treatable and manageable. Your child might show one or two of these symptoms, or he might show most of them. This also makes depression difficult to detect, as it affects children in different ways.

Being a parent is tough enough, but struggling to understand childhood depression can be especially hard for moms and dads. If your child is diagnosed, it's important not to blame yourself. "Depression is no more the result of 'bad parenting' than is diabetes or cancer," Dr. David Fassler, a clinical psychiatry professor of the University of Vermont and co-author of "Help Me, I'm Sad: Recognizing, Treating and Prevent Childhood and Adolescent Depression," explained to Parenting. "All are real illnesses that require careful evaluation and appropriate treatment. The good news is that we can help most children and adolescents." 

Instead, parents should take comfort in knowing they are not alone. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that as many as 1 in 20 children is depressed, according to Parenting. However, it is often not discussed as much as other childhood disorders, so it's important to get the facts about depression, signs and symptoms, and how it can affect your child.

Types of depression

According to the Anxiety and Depressiona Association of America, major depression and dysthymia are two common forms of depression in children. While major depression usually comes in waves after a traumatic event, such as the death of a grandparent or a divorce, dysthymia is an ongoing but less serious form of the disorder.

Getting treatment is of the utmost importance, so speaking with your pediatrician is crucial. The ADAA estimates that around 60 percent of children who suffer from depression are not getting the treatment they need to cope with the ailment, even though it is highly treatable with medication and therapies.

a young depressed childThere are many treatment options for children who struggle with depression.

Treatment matters

If you suspect that your child is struggling with depression, it is very important to seek treatment from a professional as soon as possible. Parenting referenced MRI studies showing that extended depression left untreated can cause permanent changes to brain shape and overall emotional function. This could lead to lifelong struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, or even self-harm and suicide.

Eating right and exercising are common lifestyle alterations that many adults make when dealing with depression, and this can also be effective for children. However, experts agree that cognitive behavior therapy and speaking with a medical professional who understands how depression influences children can be the most helpful option. There are also several medications deemed safe for children that can complement lifestyle changes and therapies, especially if your child has severe depression.

Being supportive

Having a shoulder for your child to cry on during a bad day is different than helping a child who is experiencing depression. For example, he or she might be withdrawn and irritable. However, that does not mean your child does not need support, and ignoring the symptoms will only contribute to the problem.

That is why you should always have an open line of communication about moodiness, sadness and other depressive feelings. If your child knows the door is always open without judgment, he or she will be more likely to talk to you about getting help. Being there and showing love does more than you think, even if it seems like your child doesn't care.

Above all, be patient and understanding - depression is a difficult health issue for everyone, but it can be especially challenging for children. Being a positive force in your child's life is the best thing you can do to help her overcome her symptoms and try to live a balanced lifestyle. 

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