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Childhood Depression

Young child displaying signs of depressionChildren with learning disabilities are prone to chronic depression. Older adolescents and adults tend to become withdrawn. They may be quiet or become agitated, irritable, and angry; they may also look sad and talk about their sadness. Young children, on the other hand, tend to exhibit non-verbal clues and express their emotional struggles more by their behavior than by talking. A major depression typically lasts several weeks and may be intense. Mild chronic depression (dysthymia) may last for an extended period of time and frequently appears to be an aspect of a child’s usual moods and personality.

Signs that may indicate depression in children:

  • Change in personality, such as increased anger, irritability, moodiness, or whining;
  • Change in appetite, usually a loss of appetite;
  • Change in sleep patterns, such as difficulty failing asleep, staying asleep, or excessive sleeping;
  • Loss of energy, or lethargy;
  • Loss of interest in friends, play, activities, and sports. Or an absence of pleasure derived from relationships;
  • Low self-esteem, frequently expressed through self-deprecating and negative talk;
  • Indecisiveness;
  • Difficulty with concentration (not to be confused with attention deficit disorder);
  • Feelings of helplessness, occasionally expressed through suicidal talk.

Causes and contributors to depression:

  • Genetic or biochemical predisposition;
  • Real or imagined experiences of loss;
  • Excessive physical and emotional stress;
  • Lack of success in school, with the family, and/or in making and keeping friends.

Depression is a complicated condition. Nevertheless, some negative effects of depression are:

  • Interference with academic, family, and social functioning;
  • Loss of interest in school, which typically results in declining academic performance;
  • Loss of interest in friends, and withdrawal;
  • Physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches;
  • Increased anxiety, fears, or phobias; increased irritability and anger; and
  • Conflicts with parents and siblings.

What parents can do:

  • Be aware of clues and indicators of depression. Parents should trust their intuition about their children’s behavior, especially where a family history of depression is present.
  • Parents may want to give serious consideration to the suggestions of others that their son or daughter may be experiencing depression.
  • If parents suspect depression in a child, they may want to discuss their concerns with teachers and school counselors. This may ease their concerns if teachers do not observe similar behaviors, or it may confirm their concerns if teachers are aware of behavior that may indicate depression.
  • Parents should talk with their family physician. The family’s physician may want to meet with the child to confirm a diagnosis or may refer the child to a child or adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional for diagnosis.
  • Once a diagnosis of depression has been made, parents should seek professional help for their child(ren). Many different types of therapy are available, some of them designed to address specific thought and behavior patterns. These therapies, and others, include: behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, family therapy, movement/art/music therapy, group therapy, and medication.