What Does Childhood Depression Look Like?
Feelings of isolation and despair are not limited to those who display them openly. We often look at people who are alone or have trouble making friends and assume unhappiness. In the same way, those who appear social, excel at a sport or skill, receive lots of positive attention, or have no shortage of friends and family are viewed as content and enviable. But these are inaccurate, surface level observations that ignore the individual. We tend to forget how easy it is to feel alone while surrounded by others or the inclination to hide those things that bring us pain or shame, even from those we love. Anyone can suffer from anxiety or depression.
In recent years, the suicides of well-known individuals like Lee Thompson Young, Sawyer Sweeten, Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have highlighted the prevalence of these challenges and the problems with perception.
The Rate of Depression Is Rising Among Our Youth
Rates of suicide and depression are steadily rising among younger individuals. A 2016 CDC report lists suicide as the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-34. While there are a number of commonalities and recommended signs to look for if you’re concerned a child might be experiencing or susceptible to depression or suicidal thoughts, individuals can perceive and deal with things very differently.
As well as you undoubtedly know your child, there may still be things that he or she is either dealing with, adept at hiding, or unable to understand enough to fully communicate to others.
What Is Depression?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines depression as a serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms, affecting how you feel, think, and handle daily activities. It also states that symptoms need to be present for at least two weeks in order to receive a diagnosis.
Risk Factors include:
- Family history of depression
- Low self-esteem
- Major life changes (death of loved one, illness, trauma)
In addition to the risk factors listed above, depression can also result from stressful situations, including school issues, bullying, abuse, and peer pressure. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that LGBTQ youth are 3 times more likely to experience mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression due to fear of coming out and being discriminated against for orientation or gender identity.
Note, one of the most common causes of low self-esteem is learning issues, which can sometimes be masked by a child. Learning is a child’s day job, and if a child is not performing as they expect, as well as their peers, that can be a lot to take. Check out symptoms of auditory processing delays here and how learning impacts social skills here.
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, or lack of self-worth
- Decreased interest in activities
- Loss of energy, weariness
- Appetite changes (unintentional weight loss or gain)
- Sleep changes (difficulty or excessive sleep)
- Withdrawing socially
- Complaints of physical issues (headache, stomach ache, etc. with no definitive cause or improvement once treated)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of despair or defeatism
- Suicidal thoughts
Seek Professional Help
Because childhood depression and anxiety are mental health issues, treatment from a trained mental health professional is highly recommended. Therapy or counseling may follow an evaluation. Progress can take time; however, so it’s important to set expectations. Additionally, experts recommend avoiding isolation by gently encouraging time with family and engaging in regular exercise. Even a daily walk can have an impact.
As with most concerns, the sooner the cause is identified and addressed the better. Depression and anxiety can be overwhelming at any age, but the weight is especially heavy on little shoulders. Children need us to listen to the verbal and nonverbal messages they send daily about their mental and physical health, validate their feelings, and not just lead the way, but stand beside them as they find a way forward.
One of the best books we have read on talking to young ones, validating rather than instructing, is Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel.
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