Depression is not exclusive to adults. As we learn more about depression, we’re growing to understand that children can also suffer from depression - even from quite young ages. It’s naturally distressing to think about any child struggling with something as horrible as depression but, in fact, catching the illness early in childhood gives the sufferer a much better chance at overcoming it than would be the case had it been diagnosed later in their lives.
If you’re worried about depression in a child or young person in your life, read on to learn more about what to watch out for, risk factors, and ways to lower the risk:
SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN
Diagnosing depression in children can be difficult, as many of the symptoms of depression are similar to the ups, downs, and growing pains of normal childhood. However, if several of these symptoms are maintained over a consistent period of time, it may be worth seeking a medical opinion:
- Mood issues, such as prolonged melancholy, irritability, aggression etc.
- Apathy towards things which would normally enthuse them.
- Lethargy, or a general lack of motivation. This could include a reluctance to get out of bed, to go to school, general listlessness and so on.
- Withdrawal from their social circle.
- Marked changes in appetite (over or undereating).
- Marked changes in sleeping patterns (over or undersleeping).
- Low self-esteem.
- Feelings of worthlessness.
PREVENTING DEPRESSION IN YOUR CHILD
Sadly, there are no surefire ways of ensuring that your child will never suffer from depression. Depression is a condition which strikes at all kinds of people, from all walks of life, with all kinds of childhoods. What’s more, a great many factors in the life of your child are beyond your control. For example, they may experience bullying at school, or witness a traumatic event. So, you cannot actively and definitively prevent your child from getting depression.
However, there are some things you can do which may help them to fend off depression, and may fortify them against it if it does come to afflict them:
- Know the risk factors (more on this in a moment)
- Provide safety and stability. This is particularly pertinent in early years. If you can, try to avoid things which will cause significant disruption to the lives of very young children. Help them to feel safe and secure in their families and environments.
- Foster caring, respectful relationships with adults. Feeling supported, respected, and cared for by the adults closest to them will help children to navigate their emotions in a healthy manner.
- Encourage communication. Establishing foundations of trust and mutual respect, as mentioned above, are the first step towards encouraging your child to be open and honest about their feelings and any problems they are experiencing. Rumination and keeping things ‘bottled up’ are heavily associated with depression.
- Do not be overprotective. There’s a fine line to walk between making your child feel safe and secure and being overprotective, but it’s really worth exploring that boundary. Childhood is a time of training for adulthood – including its trials and tribulations. If children never experience the minor stings of childhood, they’ll be unprepared for the major blows of adulthood. Let them experience disappointments and failures, but do be there to love, support, and encourage them throughout.
- Bolster their self-esteem. There are many ways to do this. Showing them love and respecting them for who they are is probably the best. Helping them to develop skills at which they excel could also help them to maintain that self-esteem in later life.
- Encourage healthy habits. A healthy diet, a good sleep pattern, and an active lifestyle are all proven to improve depressive symptoms. Getting your child into these habits early is a good way to ensure that this kind of lifestyle will be maintained throughout their lives.
- Foster a love of the outdoors. Those who spend more time in natural, outdoor surroundings are at lower risk of depression than their more indoor-bound counterparts. A love of all things green often develops in early childhood, so try and get your kids out into nature as often as you can.
RISK FACTORS FOR CHILDHOOD DEPRESSION
Given that you cannot vaccinate your child against depression and there are no sure preventative methods to protect them against it, it may help to know the factors which may put your child at higher risk of depression. If you know that your child may be vulnerable to depression, you can keep an eye out for symptoms and help to equip them with the emotional tools and resilience they will need if depression ever does rear its head.
- Family history. An element of depression is almost certainly genetic. If there is a history of depression in your family, your child is at higher risk of suffering from depression themselves. Of course, pinpointing this risk factor this can be complicated by the fact that we’ve only begun to acknowledge mental illness in an open manner relatively recently, so a family history of depression going back more than about two generations may not be easy to establish. Bear in mind, therefore, that just because your child’s immediate family do not suffer from depression does not mean that the illness has never affected any of their close ancestors.
- Trauma. Witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event is strongly associated with depression later in life.
- Chronic illness.
- Being bullied.
- Substance abuse issues within the immediate family.
- Witnessing or being involved in domestic violence.
- A parent or caregiver being in a war zone. Knowing that their parent is in danger can put children under a lot of stress, which may translate into depression.
- Having a parent or caregiver in prison.
- Being a recent immigrant. Upheavals like moving to a new country can make children feel stressed and out of place. These feelings can develop into depression.
TREATING DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN
If you suspect that your child may be depressed, it is essential that you get professional help for them as soon as possible. Children have a good recovery rate from depression so, with the right kind of help and support, their prognosis is positive.
Though it may not seem like it at the time, getting diagnosed with depression while still young is a good thing. Unfortunately, depression is a condition which tends to recur over the course of a lifetime. However, if it is caught young then your child will have ample opportunity to learn coping and healing strategies which work for them. What’s more, young minds are primed for learning new ways of thinking, which makes it far easier for them to break out of depressive patterns and reform cognitive patterns than is the case for older patients.
A trained counsellor, perhaps a family counsellor, will be able to help your child work through what they’re feeling, and teach them strategies for building the paths of their mind in such a way that they are always able to climb out of depressive episodes. Follow the links on our homepage for tips on finding the right counsellor for you and your child.