Many parents don’t think that children can experience depression, but depression in young children does occur, and it’s very different from the everyday ups and downs that children normally experience. Even a child that seems sad may not be dealing with significant depression, but if that sadness turns into something persistent or disruptive, depression could be the problem. According to Medicine Net, approximately 2% of school-age children and preschool-age children are affected by depression. However, with proper treatment, most children see significant improvement. It’s important that depression in children is treated quickly, so parents must stay informed and alert.
Childhood Depression – What is It?
Childhood depression can become severe enough that it begins interfering with the child’s ability to function. Depression is a very common psychological disorder, and it can affect the child’s overall mood, behavior, emotion, expression, and energy. When sadness becomes a regular problem, or if it begins to interfere with a child’s normal family life, social activities, schoolwork, or interests, it is often indicative that the child has a depressive illness. Although depression in children is very serious, this illness is treatable.
Different Types of Depression in Children
Several different types of depression may occur in children. Here’s a look at four types of depression that a child could be diagnosed with:
- Dysthymia. Dysthymia is a less severe type, and symptoms are usually less evident. Symptoms are often chronic and may last for over two years.
- Adjustment Disorder. Adjustment order comes with a depressed mood, and the depressive symptoms that occur usually do so because of some identifiable psycho-social stress factor.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder. Separation anxiety disorder is a disorder that involves depressive symptoms, but these symptoms are obviously associated with the child’s separation from individuals he is attached to.
- Major Depression. Major depression is a very severe type of depression. It often involves lethargy, restlessness, self-harming behavior, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, disturbed sleep, disturbed appetite, and loss of energy.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Children
Parents must be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression in children. Depression is far more than sadness that only occurs for a couple days. The symptoms that come with a depressive illness often last for weeks, months, or years, especially if children don’t receive treatment. Some of the common depression symptoms in children include:
- Depressed mood that lasts for more than two weeks.
- Significant decrease or increase in appetite.
- Feeling blue, irritable, or sad.
- Loss of energy or fatigue.
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as excessive sleeping or the inability to sleep.
- Problems concentrating.
- Physical retardation or agitation.
- Loss of pleasure or interest in regular activities.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Quick to resort to anger.
- Poor performance in school.
- Complaints of frequent stomachaches or headaches.
- Regular boredom.
- Spending significant time alone.
- Crying more easily or more often.
- Becoming excessively clingy.
Signs of Depression in Children – Is Your Child at Risk for Suicide?
Parents need to be especially vigilant at looking for signs of depression in children that may indicate that a child is at risk for suicide. Some of the signs of suicidal behavior in kids include:
- Extreme social isolation, including from family members.
- Multiple depressive symptoms.
- Talk about dying or death.
- Regular accidents.
- An increase in risk-taking behaviors.
- Significantly increased or reduced emotional expression.
- Talk of helplessness or hopelessness.
- Substance abuse.
- Increase in undesirable behaviors.
- Giving away favorite possessions.
- Focus on negative or morbid themes.
What are the Causes?
There are many different risk factors and causes of depression in children. According to OregonCounseling.org, studies show that children who have a close relative with major depression are more likely to deal with depression. Many factors may increase the risk of depression in children, including:
- Development obstacles, such as stress factors that occur early in childhood.
- Physiological stressors, such as viral infections, disease, and medical conditions.
- Genetic vulnerability.
- Personality traits that influences the way a child reacts to stress.
- Psycho-social stressors, such as grieving.
In many cases, depression occurs due to problems a child has interacting with his environment. Some of these problems may include:
- Negative views of the future, the world, and of self.
- Reduction or loss of reinforcement.
- Deficit in social skills.
- Conflict within the family.
- Deficiencies in problem solving skills.
- Lack of organization, expressiveness, or cohesion within a family.
- In ability to provide self-reinforcement or self-evaluation.
Some events may actually cause depression in children. Common events that may cause depression in kids include:
- Death of a pet or a loved one.
- Athletic, or academic failure.
- Guilt, shame, and embarrassment.
- Divorce or separation of parents (or in some cases, close relatives).
- Repeated verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse.
- Physical illness or injury that results in restricted activity or hospitalization.
- A move out of town or to another neighborhood.
- Loss of customary friends, family or surroundings.
What should you do if you think your child is depressed?
Parents should have a child evaluated by a medical professional if a child is displaying any depression symptoms. Consider talking to the child’s primary care physician, who can direct parents to a mental health professional. Early treatment is essential, so parents need to step in quickly. Once the child is receiving treatment, parents and other family members can help by encouraging the child to follow a healthy lifestyle. This should include staying socially engaged, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and staying involved in stress management activities.
Common Treatments for Depressed Children
While depression in children is a serious issue, multiple treatment strategies are available. Treatment approaches often involve the entire family, and these techniques are very successful. The following are some of the common treatments for children with depression:
- Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy, often known as talk therapy, is a type of mental health counseling that includes working with a professional therapist to come up with ways to deal with depression and solve problems. For children, two different types of psychotherapy may be used, including cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective at treating childhood depression. This therapy uses several techniques to help alleviate depression and lower the chance that it will come back. It includes behavior modification techniques designed to help a child identify negative assumptions and thoughts. The goal is to help change the way a child thinks.
- Interpersonal Therapy – This therapy helps children develop better skills for coping with relationship and emotions, which helps alleviate the symptoms of depression. Interpersonal therapy includes educating the family and the child about depression. It also helps to define problems, thus helping the child set goals to solve those problems.
- SSRIs – Medications are often prescribed to treat depression in children. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of medication prescribed for children, and these medications work by affecting the brain’s levels of serotonin. These medications are a popular treatment option because they have been proven to be safe and effective. Some of the common SSRIs used to treat children include:
- Paxil (paroxetine).
- Prozac (fluoxetine).
- Lexapro (escitalopram).
- Zoloft (sertraline).
- Celexa (citalopram).
- Luvox (fluvoxamine).
- Other Medications – In some cases, other medications may be used alone or with SSRIs to treat depression in children. Risperdal and Abilify, which are atypical neuroleptic medications, may be prescribed along with antidepressants for children who either fail to improve after using other antidepressants or suffer from very severe depression. Non neuroleptic mood stabilizers may also be used, such as Lamictal, Tegretol, and Depakote. When SSRIs have not provided good results, atypical antidepressants, such as Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Pristiq, and Effexor, may be prescribed
Support for Children with Depression
If your child is dealing with depression, it’s important to look for support for your child and the entire family. Many different places offer support, including:
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- American Association of Suicidology.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program.
Talk to your child’s primary care physician or mental health professional to find more organizations that offer support to families that have a child dealing with depression.