Mental illness can affect people of all ages, but the symptoms may appear differently in children. It can be difficult for parents to tell if their child is just “going through a phase,” because signs like irritability or mood swings may be chalked up to adolescent hormonal changes. Childhood depression can be “masked” by different behaviors, such as angry outbursts or defiance, so parents should learn the common warning signs of depression before dismissing uncharacteristic behaviors as a sign of normal adolescent development.
What Causes Childhood Depression?
Like most mental illnesses, depression can be caused by a variety of reasons, but there are some factors that may increase the risk of developing the illness. Research has shown that depression has a genetic component because children who have a parent with depression are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder themselves. Other risk factors for depression include traumatic life events, a dysfunctional home life, financial troubles, or being bullied at school. Children with physical conditions and learning or cognitive problems are also more likely to suffer from depression as well.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Children
Children with depression experience many of the same symptoms that adults with depression have, but they may express these symptoms differently. Symptoms of depression can manifest in ways that might make your child appear to be lazy or unmotivated. For example, depression often causes people to experience fatigue, so if your child is often “too tired” to complete homework or other tasks, try not to assume they’re just procrastinating. Look for other symptoms of depression, such as:
What to Do If Your Child Shows Signs of Depression
If you’ve noticed that your child has displayed symptoms of depression for at least two weeks, schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor. While there is no specific test to diagnose depression, your doctor can rule out other potential causes for your child’s symptoms and use tools like questionnaires to get a better understanding of your child’s condition. During the appointment, the doctor will probably do a complete physical check-up and may ask to talk to your child alone.
If your child receives a diagnosis of depression or a similar mood disorder, your child’s doctor will likely have several different resources and treatment options for you to consider. Psychotherapy is recommended for most children suffering from depression because a well-qualified therapist can help them understand their feelings and learn how to manage their symptoms. Your child’s doctor may also suggest antidepressants because depression is best treated with both therapy and medication.
Warning Signs of Suicidal Behavior
Although it’s rare, children under the age of 12 may attempt suicide. Children may be more at risk for suicidal behavior if they’ve experienced violence, abuse, or have a family history of alcoholism. Some red flags that your child might be suicidal include:
How You Can Help
Childhood depression might improve with just therapy and medication, but having family support can make a huge difference in your child’s mental health. Depressive symptoms can last for months and your child might need to try different medications and therapists before finding the right fit for them. Know that there is no “quick fix” for depression, or any other mental illness, but you can help your child combat depression by:
For more information and guidance, visit Dr. Syras Derksen or Oakville Wellness Center.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen