Depression can be difficult to detect in children, mainly because children often find it challenging to express and explain how they are feeling….. and having depression makes this even harder!
Depression can mask as your child being sad, feeling low, or difficult to please. Parents may feel like ‘they are just tired or going through a rough patch’. Sadness and feeling low are normal emotions following something unpleasant happening, however, we would expect that once things return to normal, your child would start to bounce back to themselves.
If you notice your child has depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure occurring nearly every day for more than two weeks, in conjunction with some of the following symptoms, this could be signs your child has symptoms of depression:
· Emotional: crying easily, tearful, sensitive, and difficulty calming down.
· Loss of interest: not finding pleasure in things they typically enjoy.
· Irritability: in children, depression can present as irritable mood including uncharacteristic tantrums, anger, whining, annoyance, or aggression.
· Reduction in school performance: difficulty concentrating, listening, remembering or engaging, with school work feeling harder and more effortful than usual.
· Appetite: either reduced interest in food, or overeating.
· Loss of interest in socialising: avoiding spending time or interacting with friends and family, or having problems with peers.
· Indecisiveness: difficulty making decisions or expressing their opinion.
· Hopelessness: lacking hope or vision for the future, or difficulty seeing a way out of their current feelings. Possibly accepting that these feelings are their new normal.
· Negativity: being overly critical of themselves and/or life in general, and difficulty seeing positives in situations.
· Loss of energy: lacking motivation and energy resulting in always feeling tired, bored, lethargic, or slowed speech.
· Sleep: not sleeping like they usually do, including frequent waking, difficulty falling asleep, waking early, nightmares, or excessive sleeping.
· Worthlessness: low self-esteem, feeling like they aren’t valued, or feeling excessive guilt, whereby they perceive everything to be their fault.
· Uncharacteristic behaviour: appearing reckless, risk-taking, stealing, or bullying.
· Suicide/Self-harm: talking about not wanting to live anymore, or hurting themselves.
Depression can be significantly debilitating, and can affect a child's physical, mental, social, and academic functioning. Therefore, early intervention is key. If you suspect your child may be suffering with depression, it is important that you seek help from your GP, Psychologist, Paediatrician, or School Counsellor.
In the meantime, some immediate things you can do to help your child include:
· Get active: exercise such as walking, playing at the park, sports, bike riding, swimming, etc are great ways to boost the happy chemicals in our body
· Quality family time: organise some fun things to do as a family, including movie nights, family day out, family dinners, board games, bush/beach walks etc.
· Organise for your child to see friends: arrange a playdate, meeting at the park, invite a friend to join in on your family day out etc.
· Regular eating and sleep routines: it is important that your child has a minimum of 3 meals and one snack each day (even if you start with small amounts and gradually increase). Additionally, avoid letting them nap, and keep regular sleep times.
· Be there for your child: listen to and support your child. Let them confide in you without criticising them. Show them you care and understand how things are feeling for them. Help them with possible solutions to problems that may be worrying them….. and most of all, show them they are loved!
If you are concerned your child may have symptoms of depression, and want to have a chat about what is currently happening for them, Melinda would love to speak with you, so please take advantage of our free 20-minute phone consult.