Depression isn’t something only adults can experience. According to the CDC, depression affects 3.2% of kids between the ages of 3 and 17. However, the symptoms can be challenging to spot because they present differently in kids and teens than they do in adults.
If you think that your child is depressed, read on. This article includes common signs of depression in children and four things you can do today to help.
Identifying Depression in Your Child
Young children often find it difficult to explain how they're feeling, while teens may attempt to hide their emotional pain, fearing judgment from others.
Because normal behaviors vary throughout development, it can be challenging to identify whether your child’s going through a phase, or if it’s something more serious. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, common signs of depression in children and teens last longer than two weeks and can include:
- Significant academic decline
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Behavioral changes
- Feeling misunderstood, guilty, or ashamed
- Sadness or crying a lot, they may have trouble identifying why they feel this way
- Running away from home or threatening or to do so
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Low self-esteem and self-doubt
- Social withdrawal from friends and family
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Lack of energy, even after a good night’s sleep
- Physical complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or digestive issues
4 Tips for Talking to Your Child About Depression
1. Be emotionally supportive. As an adult, you play an essential role in your child's life. Emotional support from a trusted adult can make a significant impact on their health. So, what can you do? According to NAMI, there are several things you can do:
- Spend quality time with your child
- Encourage open and honest conversations
- Actively listen to what your child has to say
- Acknowledge and validate their inner struggles
2. Encourage a healthy lifestyle. Since physical and mental health is so closely connected, a healthy lifestyle can do wonders for symptoms of depression. Here's what you can encourage your child to do:
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is proven to lift mood and is an excellent remedy for stress. Go on a walk to the park, play catch with them, encourage your child to participate in an activity they enjoy.
- Eat healthy meals: The food you eat affects your brain, mood, and energy levels. Choose foods that are full of nutrients, like fruits, vegetables, and fish.
- Sleep regularly: Sleep is essential for everyone. If we don't get enough of it, we don't function at our best. Try setting a consistent bedtime routine for your child; they learn patterns and learn how to wind down before bed. This helps their body relax and get ready to sleep.
3. Help them feel connected. Depression can lead to isolation and withdrawal from family and friends. And often, this can worsen symptoms of depression. While depression makes it more challenging to socialize and interact with others, you can:
- Encourage them to attend school activities or social events
- Plan play dates or sleepovers
- Schedule family time or gatherings
4. Contact a mental health professional. Depression can get better. But without proper care, symptoms can worsen over time. Therapists treat depression with talk therapy and can provide referrals for medication if needed. As a parent, you can choose to participate in parent counseling as part of the treatment, which focuses on ways parents can best support and respond to a child going through depression.
If your child is experiencing depression, they may benefit from working with a trained therapist.
Psychotherapy, medications, or a blend of the two has been shown to help kids with symptoms of depression. Depending on your child's unique situation, the kind of treatment recommended will vary.