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Symptoms of Child Depression: The Basics


Might My Child Have Major Depression?

Everyone experiences sadness. And all children experiencing family or personal problems exhibit some sadness and moodiness. And yet those sad, helpless, or anxious feelings in a child, especially if they persist most days, can also be depression. Depression in children can be hard to diagnose in its early stages.

Below is a list of some things you may see in depressed youth. No list is fully perfect, since mild to moderate depression often requires someone who has seen hundreds of depressed children.

Children can have a different presentation of depression than adults. In fact, depression can look different in a 4 year-old, a 6 year-old, a 10 year-old and a 16 year-old.

Some things present in a depressed child:

  • Increased Irritability -- the child is reactive and annoyed too easily
  • Enjoys fewer things than peers -- many children are depressed and still enjoy computer games and other interests. But they enjoy fewer things and enjoy them with less intensity. They can become more withdrawn.
  • Body Aches Increase (e.g., headaches and stomachaches)
  • Increased Withdrawal -- in school, friends and family
  • Unusual Sadness
  • Low Hope -- in people or in a future
  • Agitation and Restlessness -- anxiety can be a symptom of depression or a separate problem.
  • Decreased School Functioning -- school requires a sharp mind. Biological depression slows down the function of neurons.
  • Feeling Like a Loser -- "I'm trash," "I am a stupid," and "I am ugly."
  • Hopelessness -- the child will believe that their current feelings with always be present. They will see world and future through dark eyes.
  • Appetite Changes -- a child can eat more or less than normal. This is more than the common fluctuations in eating seem in young children.
  • Sleeping Trouble -- The sleep center is effected by changes in the brain that cause depression. These can be seen on sleep tests. Children can sleep more or have trouble falling asleep.
  • Memory Loss -- depression interferes with recall and remembering homework and other information. Often an "A" or "B" student starts to have to work too hard or loses grades since it is harder to think.
  • Unusual Guilt -- a child may apologize too much.
  • Hating Life -- some children say they "hate their life" and if this is more than a passing comment and continues to be a feeling it is serious.
  • Thoughts of Dying, Getting to Heaven or Suicide -- if this is more than a passing reflection, it could be serious. If a child has a plan to hurt themselves and some desire to do it, it is an emergency. At the least, do not leave them unattended.
  • Crying -- children are sensitive and can have their feelings hurt. Yet a depressed child is like someone walking naked in a hailstorm. Any disappointment or rejection is 5x more painful. No one can give you a one liner on what is reasonable crying since that depends on many factors.
  • Boredom -- depressed kids have less fun and are hard to entertain.
  • "I Don't Know" -- most children say this at times, but depressed children find interacting and talking a chore and a labor. Thinking is harder, so they often use this expression repeatedly.

Children are very sensitive to their environment. Often they are the weak emotional link in the family chain. A stress can be the cause of a depression. Meaning, things like moving, having a pet die, a divorce, new poverty, failing a test, being teased or punched, can cause a biological depression.

Any change in a child's behavior that does not have any clear cause should raise a flag. However, a depression often first starts with a physical or emotional stressor. A physical stressor might be a broken bone or Lyme disease and an emotional stressor might be being teased or finding school too hard.

Early diagnosis and treatment by professionals is essential to children who are experiencing depression. Once your child has experienced major depression, I believe the research shows they are at risk of developing another depression again.

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