Is My Child Suffering from Depression?

According to national statistics, depression is the most common mental health problem in the United States, annually affecting 17 million people of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. It’s estimated that 1 in every 33 children may suffer from some form of depression, and the numbers could even be as high as 1 in 8.

We are all going to have our good days and bad days, but for those who struggle with depression, it’s much more than just having an occasional case of the blues that set us back for a few days, or even weeks. Depression is a much more serious issue, and may result in one of the 12 youth suicides that occur in this country every single day. As parents, how do we know if our child is exhibiting the early signs of depression? And if we suspect that they are depressed, what do we do?

It’s not always so easy to detect depression in our little ones, because it can appear as bad moods or irritability. The key difference between periods of normal irritability and depression is the duration. If the bad moods last for a long time, even if our child doesn't acknowledge that they are sad, it could be a sign of depression. It’s important to recognize the difference between short periods of normal depressive symptoms that can be brought on by stressful situations such as divorce or loss, versus the type of depression that tends to run in families and doesn’t go away.

It’s also important that we release any stigma about depression, because it isn’t a sign of weakness or laziness; it’s a chemical deficiency in the brain that causes the condition and it can easily be treated. We wouldn’t blame ourselves if we were diagnosed with diabetes; therefore, we shouldn’t feel flawed if we or our child is suffering from depression.

The Types of Depression Affecting Kids

  • Major depression is a very serious condition characterized by a constant sad mood, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and an inability to feel pleasure or happiness. This type of depression can be debilitating and interfere with day-to-day functioning, like eating and sleeping. If left untreated, it can also result in high-risk behavior or even suicide in adolescents.
  • Dysthymia, like major depression, presents itself with feelings of sadness or irritability, only less severe. This milder form of depression can linger on for a year or longer, but it doesn’t interfere with day-to-day life. Children and teens with dysthymia often feel down or feel like they have the blues. They may also experience low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, and suffer from sleeping and eating issues. While, it may seem like our little one is functioning in this mild depressive state, it’s important to know that at least 10% of people who suffer from dysthymic disorder may go on to develop major depression at some point, especially during adolescence.
  • Bipolar disorder is another type of mood disturbance. It is marked by episodes of low-energy depression (sadness and hopelessness) contrasted by periods of high-energy mania (irritability and explosive temper). According to statistics, bipolar disorder may affect upwards as many as 1% to 2% of kids. It often develops in the late teen years and early adulthood and affects more than 2 million people.

What Causes Depression, and Who Gets It?

Depression varies from person to person.  Why one person is afflicted by it and another isn't, typically has more to do with genetics. On a biological level, depression is caused by having lower levels of feel good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin carried throughout our nervous system, signaling to our body that everything is hunky dory and we are happy. People who suffer from depression have lower levels of these important chemicals and can’t seem to feel happy no matter what they do. Everything feels hard and hopeless. Look at it like someone in the ocean who keeps getting knocked down from wave after wave and can’t catch their breath. That is what depression feels like.

What Are the Signs Of Depression?

Major Depression

The most obvious sign that our little one might be suffering from major depression is a constant state of hopelessness or worthlessness that doesn’t seem to go away. Of course for an accurate diagnosis of any type of depression to be made, a detailed clinical evaluation must be done by a medical or mental health professional

If we notice five or more of these symptoms in your child for longer than a couple of weeks, they meet the criteria for major depression:

  • Down in the dumps or really sad for no reason
  • No energy even for doing simple tasks
  • Don’t seem to enjoy anything
  • Withdrawn from family and friends
  • Constantly irritable or anxious
  • Unable to concentrate
  • No appetite or eats too much
  • Sleeping too much or not at all
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Physical symptoms of aches or pains
  • Apathetic about the future
  • Talks or thinks a lot about death or suicide

Dysthymia (Mild Depression)

In the case of dysthymia, your child must have two or more of these symptoms almost all of the time for at least a year:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleeping too much or being unable to sleep
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of appetite or overeating

The only way to determine whether our child is depressed about a situation, or is in fact predisposed to depression is to take action and have them evaluated by a doctor. Depression can be treated with psychotherapy, medicine, or a combination of therapy and medicine. Real depression is not something that our child will eventually outgrow; so if you are concerned that they are showing signs of depression, error on the side of caution and have them checked out.

Bipolar Disorder

In the case of bipolar disorders, your child will not appear depressed all the time. However, episodes of depression will be intense and fluctuating. Here are the signs of a bipolar disorder in kids:

  • Manic episodes
  • Depressive episodes
  • Intense periods of anger
  • Severe mood swings
  • Periods of extreme elation and giddiness

Are you worried that your child has some form of depression? What were the signs that alerted you, and how do you plan on helping them cope? Share your thoughts with us.

Tags : health   development   depression   

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