It’s common for children and teens to get the blues, but how do you know when your child’s mood change is something more serious?
It’s not easy to tell when a child is suffering from depression because kids don’t always show sadness or despondency. The red flags of depression in kids are pronounced changes in behavior, said Dr. Charlie Brown, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology.
Children suffering from depression may act up in school, withdraw socially, lose interest in activities, become more irritable or frequently complain of physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches. Other signs are falling grades, changes in sleep or appetite, loss of energy or trouble concentrating.
“If left unaddressed, the blues can become a major depressive episode,” Dr. Brown said. “When we see a change in functioning, that’s when we become concerned.”
Sometimes when adolescents are feeling down, parents react by giving them space. But this is when you should pull them in closer, Dr. Brown said. Helping your kids explore their feelings can go a long way to prevent the blues from turning into more serious depression. Spending time together doing something you and your child enjoy also helps.
About 5% of kids suffer from depression at some point (1-2% before puberty; up to 8% after puberty). It often runs in families and kids who have experienced trauma or have medical issues are at increased risk.
Depressed kids may talk about suicide, and they are at increased risk for suicide. If a child is showing signs of depression, it’s okay to ask if they have thoughts of hurting themselves.
“Many times parents themselves don’t find out their kids are having these thoughts. They find out through friends, teachers or another outside support system,” Dr. Brown said.
If symptoms of depression persist, you should seek professional help. Your pediatrician or family doctor can refer you to a mental health professional.
Early diagnosis and treatment with therapy and, in some cases, medication is key to overcoming the illness.
“A major depressive episode is not a life sentence,” Dr. Brown said. “The goal is to work aggressively so kids and teens can go out and live a life without experiencing the same level of difficulty as adults.”