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Is depression possible in children?


Although we typically hear of depression in young adults, adults and even adolescents, we rarely hear of talk about depression in children – but it is possible.


Depression in kids, however, can look different from what it might look like in an older person, and can be affected by their age and current stage of development. Depression in children is treatable, and it is very possible for kids who are given treatment to make their way back to a normal, healthy life.


What are the signs of depression in kids?

 

Kids sometimes have a harder time expressing how they might be feeling, and in many circumstances, it could be because they just haven’t developed the verbal abilities to share how they feel yet. They might try to express it, but more often than not, they don’t do so in an eloquent way – for example, a six-year-old might not be able to say, “Hey, Dad? I’m feeling sad a lot and I’m not sure why.” They might act out instead, or withdraw from their friends and family.


Other signs might be that they look sad, more often than they don’t. They might be angry a lot, or whine or complain frequently. They might not want to do things they’ve historically enjoyed, like a favorite sport or watching a favorite show. They might look bored. They might not be able to concentrate. They might complain of chronic stomach pain or other aches. They might not want to eat.


What causes depression in kids?

 

That’s hard to pinpoint even for an adult, and even more so in kids. Risk factors include, however, a family history, trauma, low levels of affection from parents, abuse, poverty, stress, or anxiety.


Depression in kids can be brought on by a traumatic event or a serious and sudden loss. It could also be due to ongoing challenges, like bullying or abuse at the hands of a caregiver.


Is childhood depression common?

 

Depression in children is not as common as it is in adolescents and adults, with rates hovering around 1% to 2% in kids.


Further, kids might display certain symptoms, but not meet the full criteria for an official diagnosis of depression.


Are there different types of depression in kids?

 

There are a few types of depressive disorders: major depressive disorder, adjustment disorder (which occurs within three months of a highly stressful event), seasonal affective disorder, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar depression or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (which might include extreme temper tantrums that happen over three times a week for over a year, as well as severe irritability in a variety of environments).


How is depression diagnosed for kids?


When five or more symptoms of depression appear in a two-week period or more, a depression diagnosis may be made. Some of these symptoms include low energy, difficulty sleeping (or over-sleeping), loss of appetite and weight loss, feelings of guilt, poor sense of self-worth, or talk of (or evidence of) self-harm or suicide.


Health professionals need the honesty and support of parents and caregivers who might notice the signs and symptoms but must articulate them for the professional.


How is depression in kids treated?

 

It depends on the severity of the depression, and if there are other mental health issues present. Commonly, treatment includes behavioral and cognitive strategies, as opposed to medication.


In severe cases, medication may be necessary, in partnership with talk or psychotherapy. Parents are asked to take a major role in treatment, as well as professionals from the child’s school setting.


My child is depressed. What can I do?

 

If you are the parent of a child with depression, you might be feeling overwhelmed and helpless. But it’s very important for you to be as strong as you can for your child, and logically identify how your child might be feeling, while helping them figure out how to share it with you as best they can.


As a parent, you’ll be the one to first notice symptoms, and you’ll be the first to see if their moods or behaviors have drastically changed. That’s what the health professional needs to know. Doing so will ensure the best assessment and treatment for your child, so that they can get back to normal activities and a healthy life as quickly as possible.


Family-based therapy is often recommended, so that your child feels supported and loved.

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