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Signs of Childhood Depression

Signs Childhood Depression

It’s common for kids to have ups and downs. It isn’t just a part of adulthood – children go through hard times, too. Unfortunately, just like adults, children can experience mood disorders like depression. Teens, young adults, and even children under 12 are at risk. A new report (August 2022) by the Annie E. Casey Foundation states that since the pandemic, childhood mood disorders have increased by 43% in Ohio. At Sun Behavioral Columbus, our goal is to bring that number down.

It isn’t always easy to notice the symptoms of depression in children. Childhood comes with the occasional mood swing or attitude shift. Knowing what to look for allows parents to recognize when their child needs help. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression is a vital skill that all parents should have.

What Causes Depression in Young Children?

It’s almost unthinkable to imagine our children with depression. What could be happening in their world to cause a mood disorder like this? Many parents are quick to blame themselves – but that isn’t helpful or accurate. Childhood depression can come from a multitude of sources. Here are some common reasons why children experience depression:

  • Bullying. Physical bullying, psychological bullying, and cyberbullying are all common. Bullying happens every day and in almost every school. Most children will experience it at least once in their lifetime. Some children experience it repeatedly, and when this happens, it can be devastating to a child’s self-esteem. They can question their worth and become hard on themselves in ways they never were before. If this isn’t addressed, children can become prone to self-harm or even suicidality.
  • The Death of Someone Close. Death is always hard on children because it’s not something that seems natural to them. They’ll go through the inevitable grieving process, but if it was someone they loved, they might become depressed.
  • Family strife. Repeated fights, abuse, divorce, or financial problems at home can cause young children to feel hopeless and afraid. If they don’t feel safe in their environment or if they can’t trust the people around them, they’ll begin to withdraw.
  • Genetic factors. Children may start to show signs of depression early in life if there’s a genetic predisposition. This is rare and doesn’t usually happen until adolescence or high school, but some children may experience it early.
  • Physical health. Children who struggle with severe medical problems have a higher risk for depression. This can include anything from chronic conditions to obesity.
  • Stressful events. A collection of stressful circumstances can put your child at risk for depression, like moving, a change in schools, or a close friend moving away.

Signs of Childhood Depression

Childhood depression can be challenging to recognize. Some of the behaviors you’ll see with depression are similar to the behaviors you’ll see with puberty and adolescence. That being said, there are some signs you can pay attention to. If you notice a few of these things happening, it might be time to seek treatment:

  • Massive change in eating or sleeping routine
  • Loss of interest in doing the things they love doing
  • Change in personality
  • Significant drop in grades or school performance
  • Isolating themselves (not seeing friends or coming out of their room)
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Insomnia
  • Persistent, self-deprecating comments

If you notice more than one of these things happening, or if these signs have been happening for a while, it might be time to contact your doctor. If left untreated, depression can lead to suicidality in adolescents and teens.

Here are some signs that your child might be considering suicide:

  • They’re constantly talking about death
  • They’re participating in self-harm (like cutting)
  • They’re talking about how they feel hopeless
  • They’re participating in substance use
  • They’re getting in physical accidents regularly (car, bike, sports, etc.)

If you’re noticing signs of suicidal behavior in your child, don’t hesitate to enroll them in a treatment program or speak with a specialist.

Is Childhood Depression Preventable?

This is a tough question because, as parents, we want to do everything we can to prevent depression in our children. The answer is yes and no. We cannot control whether or not our child will develop a mood disorder. However, we can take precautions to ensure that they feel safe, loved, and comfortable expressing their feelings.

One of the ways parents can achieve this is by spending quality time with their children. The more time you spend with them, the more you’ll understand who they are and how they think. This will allow you to help them should they ever develop depression. It will also help them to feel loved and wanted.

Another helpful thing is taking time aside to talk about feelings. Depression is a very isolating disorder; when people feel depressed, they don’t always want to talk about what’s wrong. This can make depression worse. By giving your child a safe space to talk and supporting them when they have big feelings, you’re showing them that they’re never alone. No matter what they’re feeling.

A healthy diet and an exercise routine are also helpful in staving off depression. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which fight against feelings of anxiety or depression. Healthy foods will ensure that their bodies feel strong and capable. Chances are, if their body is feeling healthy, their mind will feel healthy.

You can also teach your child about healthy coping mechanisms. It’s never too early to learn calm-down strategies. Any time your child is displaying anger or frustration, it’s an opportunity to teach them about healthy mental practices. Show them how to write their feelings in a journal or how to go for a walk when they need to cool off. Teach them that they can take space to breathe instead of lashing out. You can teach your child to make healthy choices when they have big feelings. You can set your child up for a mentally healthy future. That way, if they develop a mood disorder, they’ll be able to handle it a little better.

Treatment and Management of Childhood Depression

Childhood depression is treatable through talk therapy, medication, or both. If you’ve noticed two or more signs of depression in your child, the best thing to do is speak with a specialist. You can talk to your primary care provider about a referral, or you can find treatment centers in your area. Your treating physician or psychiatrist will go over your options with you. Depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms, talk therapy might be the best route. Other children may require medication or even an inpatient program. You will work with your treatment provider to figure out what works best.

Make sure you’re going with a provider that uses evidence-based techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy. You should also make sure you can trust your provider. You need to be able to ask them as many questions as you need to help your child.

The things your child learns in therapy will be beneficial for their long-term mental health. In therapy, your child will learn how to reroute negative thinking, cultivate healthy coping strategies, openly discuss their struggles, and communicate with their parents and loved ones. Quality pediatric counseling will help your child take control of their feelings and set healthy goals.

Please note: if your child is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, please call a specialist immediately or your primary care provider immediately.

Treatment for Depression in Children

Being a young adult isn’t easy, and navigating a childhood mood disorder can feel overwhelming. At Sun Behavioral Health Columbus, we strive to create positive outcomes for children struggling with mental health. Our children’s program supports the unique needs of children ages 5-11. We also offer a teen psychiatry program for adolescents and teens. For questions about our programs, call us at (614) 706-2786 today.


FAQs About Signs of Childhood Depression

How do you assess a child for depression?

A mental health care provider can assess pediatric depression. You can look for signs of depression and help your child in managing their symptoms, but a professional opinion and interview are mandatory for an assessment.

What is the youngest age a child can get depression?

Typically, a diagnosis of depression doesn’t happen for children under 3 years old.

At what age should a child be screened for depression?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends that primary care physicians screen children for depression at 8 years and older.

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