This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the world. However, although most people know that many adults live with this condition, its prevalence amongst children is not as well known. This is primarily because some adults and parents dismiss children’s mental health as “just a phase” or something “they’ll get over.” However, mental illnesses do not just go away, and children do not grow out of them.
Childhood depression is a serious and common issue that can cause significant distress throughout adolescence (and even adulthood) if left untreated. Therefore, it’s important to understand depression so you can identify it if it shows up in your child. This article will give you a good introduction to depression in children, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental illness that can cause perpetual feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair. However, it is more than just “feeling down” for a day or two. The feelings experienced in depression are very intense and overwhelming. Furthermore, this condition can last weeks, months, or even years or decades if left untreated.
Despite common belief, children and adults with depression cannot just “get over it.” The intense feelings can completely overwhelm and take over their life, affecting their social lives, school, and physical health. They may also lose interest in their hobbies and struggle to feel any sense of happiness or joy. A child’s demeanor and personality can completely change if they experience depression for long bouts of time.
What Causes Depression In Children?
We all know that adulthood can be difficult, so it is understandable when we find out our peers live with depression. However, children have difficulties, too, that can cause depression. Not every child has a joyful childhood filled with wonder and love. Some children with depression experience rough childhoods, while others experience events, genetics, or other situations entirely out of their’s or their parents’ control. The most common causes and factors of depression in children include:
- Substance use
- Problems at home
- Stressful life events
Signs And Symptoms Of Depression
If your child lives with depression, they may not open up to you about their struggle. What’s worse is they may not even understand what’s going on themselves! When adults realize that they have a condition, they may open up to their family, peers, or therapists about the problem. However, children don’t always think to do this or know how to vocalize their struggles.
Therefore, you will need to be aware of any behavioral or mood changes to determine if something is wrong. Some common symptoms of depression that show up in children include:
- Continuous feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness
- Isolation and social withdrawal
- Behavioral problems at school, during extracurricular activities, or when spending time with their peers
- Apathy, boredom, and loss of interest in their favorite activities
- Increased irritation, anger, or crankiness
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Pains that have no cause and don’t respond to treatment (such as headaches or stomachaches)
- Increased number of tantrums, outbursts, or crying episodes
- Thoughts of death or suicide**
**If you or your child are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.**
Anxiety is often concurrent with depression in children. Therefore, if your child is struggling with depression, they may also exhibit anxiety symptoms. These include:
- Persistent feelings of worry or nervousness
- Negative thinking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping issues or disorders
- Quick to anger
- Clinginess and separation anxiety
Depression and anxiety are very common among adolescents. About 13% of adolescents live with depression, and it is estimated that about 31% live with anxiety. Both conditions can affect your child’s school performance, social life, and overall happiness, so you should help your child as soon as possible.
How To Treat Your Child’s Depression
If you notice your child exhibits any of the symptoms of depression, then you shouldn’t hesitate to seek treatment. Your child deserves to be happy and treat their feelings of despair.
There are multiple treatment options to seek out, depending on the cause, severity, and length of your child’s depression. Below are a few of those options.
Counseling is the most common form of treatment for both adults and children living with depression. A therapist can get to the root of your child’s depression and provide a safe space to discuss their problems and obstacles in life. They can also help your child find ways to cope with their stressors so that they can ease their symptoms and prevent them from worsening when life becomes stressful. Furthermore, a counselor can teach your child how to rewire their brain to be more optimistic and resilient.
In some cases, it may be best to have your child take medication. However, this is a decision that a professional should make, and only after assessing your child and spending time counseling them. Mental health medication can only be prescribed by a psychiatrist, who your child’s therapist can recommend if they believe this is the best treatment option.
Though a healthy lifestyle probably won’t cure your child’s depression, it may help ease the symptoms. Exercise, a good diet, and plenty of sleep often result in happier, healthy, and more energetic children. If your child is struggling, work to create a more healthy lifestyle for everyone in the house to encourage better overall mental well-being and physical health.
Depression is more common in children than most people think. Unfortunately, mental health for children is often dismissed as “just a phase” and not important. But recognizing the signs of depression is critical so that they can receive the treatment they need. Hopefully, this article helped you understand if your child is experiencing depression and what treatment options are available. For further reading on depression, you can find more information and resources at the link below: