Since I suffer from chronic depression, I often look at my kids and wonder, “How can I tell if my child is depressed?” Today, I am happy to welcome Dr. Michelle Bengtson who will help us spot the symptoms of depression in children.
As a neuropsychologist, I’ve seen a shift in the experience of depression. When I started in the field over 20 years ago, I rarely saw depressed children unless they were going through some major life trauma like a parent’s divorce or a severe medical condition. Now I see them in my office every week. It saddens me greatly.
Depression in children often doesn’t look the same as it does with adults. As a result, many parents don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in their children for what it really is. Rarely do children suffering from depression experience all these symptoms. Frequently they may experience different symptoms at different times.
Symptoms of Depression in Children
While many children may continue to go about their normal day without significant difficulty, a depressed child will often begin to show difficulties in different settings. For example, parents or teachers may begin to notice a decline in academic performance, or decreased interest in school or previously enjoyable activities. They may begin to experience difficulties in social settings or with their peer groups. They may begin to show less interest in maintaining their physical appearance.
Children experiencing depression may experience:
- A noticeable increase or decrease in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns – either sleeping too much or having difficulty sleeping
- Decreased energy level
- Physical complaints that don’t have a medical basis, or respond to treatment (such as headaches, stomachaches)
- Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
- Irritability or increased frustration
- Anger or tempter tantrums
- Vocal outbursts
- Physical outbursts
- Feelings of sadness
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Worry, nervousness, fear
- Excessive Clinginess
- Increased tendency to become socially isolated or withdrawn (such as spending more time in their room, or not doing as much with friends)
- A loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- A refusal to go to school
- Decreased self-esteem
- More negative self-talk
- Greater sensitivity to rejection
- Thoughts or actions pertaining to self-harm
- Thoughts of death or suicide
While depression is considered a mental health disorder, it is a medical condition. As with any medical condition, accurate diagnosis is crucial for appropriate treatment. Parents, teachers, and coaches can’t be expected to know if their child is going through normal pre/adolescence, the blues, or a more serious case of depression.
If Your Child Has Signs of Depression
If your child exhibits more than a couple of these symptoms for two or more weeks, seek medical attention. Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist to allow an appropriate treatment provider to assess your child and make a diagnosis, if one is warranted. Only then can appropriate treatment recommendations be made.
If your child is diagnosed with depression, several treatment recommendations are likely. Individual or family outpatient psychotherapy can be very beneficial for learning appropriate coping mechanisms for better managing the stressors which may be contributing to depression. A consistent sleep schedule is important in order to allow your child’s brain the best chance of regenerating the naturally occurring chemicals which help to stabilize mood and reduce anxiety. Physical exercise is also important for the brain’s ability to adequately repair itself and reproduce the chemicals it needs for everything from hormone balance to mood stabilization. Sometimes medication is recommended to treat depression in the short term, to allow other treatment recommendations to be more effective.
You can find an appropriately trained treatment provider in your area by consulting with the American Psychological Association at http://www.apa.org.
About Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Author, speaker and board certified clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson is also a wife, mother and friend. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith to address issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for them. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith. Dr. Michelle Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She blogs regularly on her own site. Dr. Bengtson answers readers’ specific questions on her website under the section “Ask Dr B.”
Hope Prevails. For more hope, stay connected with her at:
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