Signs of Depression in Children and How to Help
Depression comes in a variety of forms and affects people of all ages. When it comes to childhood depression, there are a number of signs that can be very telling. While it is normal for kids to feel sad or down from time to time, if the negative feelings last for more than two weeks or impair your child’s ability to function day-to-day, it may be a symptom of depression and time for additional help. A depressed child, if neglected, can lead to severe depression in adulthood and other psychiatric conditions. Fortunately, there are many resources that can help alleviate the heaviness associated with untreated depression and can even reverse the effects. Read on to learn more about the signs of depression in children and what steps you can take to help.
One of the most common and easy-to-spot signs of depression is social withdrawal — this is especially true if your child is typically social by nature. When children are developing depression or anxiety disorders, they will commonly pull back from their friends and peers and turn inwards.
In this case, you can find out if and how much your child is socially withdrawn by asking them about school and who they have been spending time with. Another way to go about this without directly talking to your child is by getting in touch with your child’s teachers and coaches and asking if they have noticed any differences in your child’s social patterns recently.
Social withdrawal during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might look slightly different. Some signs may include lack of participation in online classes, not engaging with friends in usual online games, or avoiding phone calls and texts from friends.
Lacking interest in favorite activities
If your child seems to be no longer intrigued by activities that they usually show a lot of interest in, this may be a sign to take a closer look at how they are doing mentally and emotionally. While it is common for children to change interests as they age, drastic withdrawal from activities that typically bring them joy is a sign that they might be struggling internally. Be especially mindful if there’s a family history of depression or major depressive disorder.
Low self-esteem can present itself in a number of ways, from talking down on oneself to avoiding new experiences and opportunities altogether. When we don’t feel good enough, it typically comes from a place of feeling unworthy, unloved, and unwanted. That said, when low self-esteem is displayed as a depressed mood, especially within children, it is worth looking into.
At times low self-esteem can simply be reflective of a bad day, however, when it becomes a pattern or a common occurrence, this can be a sign that your child may be struggling with depressive symptoms.
Unusual crying spells and sensitivity
Another sign of untreated depression in children is unusual crying spells and sensitivity. While this may seem like a clear and straightforward sign, it is oftentimes overlooked in young children, which may lead to an outburst of other depressive symptoms to follow.
While crying is a healthy and shared experience across people of all ages, when it becomes uncontrollable it is something to look further into. Alongside crying spells, keep an eye out for triggers to sensitivity. These triggers may look similar to certain symptoms seen in conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, mood disorder or other mental health disorders that heighten emotional responses (anger, irritability, sadness…). This can be a sign of depression in children as well.
One of the most evident cries for help when it comes to children who are struggling with depression is self-harm. Self Harm can include cutting, scratching, biting, headbanging, suicidal behavior, substance abuse and more. No matter what type of self-harm is present, it is important to get your child the help that they need and deserve right away. Certain signs, such as suicidal thoughts, in a depressed teen are not always visible but are a high risk factor that needs to be addressed early. It is important to monitor your child’s symptoms to identify any early warning signs.
How to help
Depression symptoms can vary from child to child. Trust your intuition; you know your child best. If something feels off and any of the symptoms listed above last longer than 2 weeks, your child may be suffering from depression. Here is a list of how to support a child who is struggling with depression:
Dig deeper into understanding
First, consider whether there have been any significant changes in your child’s life that may be impacting their mental and emotional state. For example, conflicts at home, transitioning schools, bullying, and medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which makes school and socializing difficult, are all common factors that can contribute to a child’s depression and emotional state.
In addition to trying to understand the context on your own, sit down with your child and ask them how they have been feeling lately or if there is anything that they want to talk about. Simply let them know that you are there to listen and support them when they are ready to share their feelings.
Lastly, seeking help from a mental health professional is arguably most effective when it comes to childhood or teen depression. Talk to your child’s doctor about getting clinical treatment. Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, creates a safe space for your child to work through their emotions in an easy-to-understand manner. Counseling for kids also helps by explaining anxiety to kids and showing what the next steps are for the family.
When it comes to finding the right mental health services and therapist for your child, Children’s Bureau provides an extensive variety of services and programs for children ages 0-21. At the Children’s Bureau, all children are provided a safe place to explore their thoughts and feelings free from judgment and are provided the necessary tools to begin the healing process.
To help your child overcome depression, it is important to be alert and ready to help with change. Foster a healthy and supportive relationship with your child… ask questions, talk, listen, and love.
Your child doesn’t need to struggle anymore and neither do you
Left untreated depression can persist or get worse, but with the right care and support, depression can be helped. Now that you know the signs of depression and how best to support your child, you can start taking steps towards mental health treatment and supporting your kiddo the best way possible.
Jennifer Sherman MA
Jennifer Sherman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 10 years of clinical experience working with children. She has provided mental health services to children in a variety of settings including schools, office-based, and field-based. She is the Clinical Supervisor for the Valencia Office of Children’s Bureau.