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how to spot childhood depression

Updated on February 11, 2013

depression in children is more common than many think

Childhood depression is a serious disorder and should be taken as seriously as an adult depression case would be. Overall, depression has increased in the past 40 to 50 years. The number of boys and girls affected have been almost equally diagnosed.1 About five percent of all children experience depression and there is a good chance that it may recur after it has disappeared the first time. Children who start having depression before the age of fourteen, experience a divorce in their family, or have parents that are depressed tend to have reoccurring depression later on in life.2 Depression can effect a child emotionally, cognitively, physically, and behaviorally.

Since depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry, one may notice a child’s behavior or attitude change before the child will communicate that he is suffering.3 When a child is depressed, his irritable mood will interfere with his ability to function and he will not be able to cope with the stress in his life.

A child may be in depression if he shows signs of five or more of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks: a depressed mood most of the day, diminished interest in activities, significant weight loss, either not being able to sleep or getting too much sleep, slow physical movements, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death. 4

Depression is probably the most common psychiatric complaint.5 It is also the most common of the behavioral disorders and illnesses with the exception of the common cold. It has emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral signs.6 Young children will show signs of depression in the way they play or draw. It is an illness in which the victim exhibits sadness, inactivity, and low self-esteem.7 Self-criticism is the main feature of depression.8 This disorder must be distinguished from the bouts of sadness and discouragement that everyone feels ever so often.9

The most frequent changes in the body functions are the loss of appetite and weight, constipation, and sleep disturbances.1° They will tend to draw pictures with dark colors and sad themes, and exhibit aggressive or no desire in their play.’1 Many children possess one or more other behavior disorders along with depression including anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and ADHD ate just a few. Those who have multiple disorders are more apt to experience recurring depression.’2 One might observe external signs in a depressed child or adolescent. In the younger children, they may appear sickly, cry excessively, and get frustrated easily. The older children may decline academically, have disruptive tendencies and social problems


three most common types of depression

The three most common types of depressive disorders are major depression, dysthymia, and bi-polar disorder. Major depression is the common type of depression where one does not enjoy life because of any number of reasons. It will last a couple of weeks and disappear, but has the possibility of reoccurrence. Dysthymia is not as severe but has long-term, recurring symptoms. Bipolar disorder is not as common as the other two, but the mood swings are dramatic highs and lows. It is connected with mania which causes the mood swings. This depression is often dangerous for the person when he is in the “maniac cycle.”13

The cause of depression is unknown; however, many factors may contribute to the development of this disorder. Mainly, depression in children is caused by three factors: medical problems, genetics, and their environment. Children with severe medical problems tend to get depression because they do not have the ability to do things as other children do. They become discouraged and hard on themselves. Parents who have depression cause their children to be candidates for depression. Even though parents may pass on depression, they do not cause the depression. How the parents deal with stress will help the child in dealing with stress; therfore, parents need to remember that their children are always watching them so they need to be good role models. This leads to the child’s environment. Children who live in a home that is dysfunctional and chaotic and the parents argue and fight, will react to their environment with depression. Depression can be caused by stressful events or situations in the home, school, and other places. Witnessing a death, losing parents, suffering from neglect or poverty are all legitimate situations that can send a child into depression.14

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it can be treated

Childhood depression can be treated. Treatment must be fitted to the needs of the child and his schedule. One of the first and easiest kinds of treatment that can be used on a depressed child is Environmenetal - Behavior Intervention. This causes the child to become involved in exercise and social events where they can learn to enjoy life instead of looking on the dark side all the time.’5 Another treatment that is used when a child has a mild case of depression is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy umbrellas a variety of psychological techniques, one being cognitive-behavioral therapy.

This technique helps correct negative thought patterns and pushes the child to cope with life’s situations with positive thinking.’6 Medication is another treatment. It can be used by itself or with other treatment techniques. The anti-depressant drugs help people do what they normally would have a hard time doing when in depression- sleep better, eat better, lift their spirits, and give them more energy. SRIs, seratonin reuptake inhibitors, have been proven to be effective in childhood depression and are now the first choice of medication for depression. This drug stimulates the serotonin nervous system in the brain which controls the child’s characteristics that are ususally affected in depression.’7 Once a child is thought to have depression, some kind of treatment needs to staart taking place.

Parents must help their child deal with depression instead of ignoring it. Ignoring depression may have deadly consequences due to the effect that it has on the child. It is common for dedicated parent to feel that it is their job to make sure their child is happy. Consequently, when the parents are not have successful in cheering their child, they may end up feeling guilty. As stated before, the parent does not cause the child’s depression and should therefore not feel guilty about it. However, there are a few ways that the parent can help the child. The child should be allowed to talk about how he feels; for if he doesn’t, he will bottle it up inside and cause more problems for himself. They should Be allowed to grieve and not be belittled.’8 Parents should create a warm and loving environment for their child and depression should disappear when they can feel safe, have fun, and have the right feelings toward themselves.


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    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 

      5 years ago from Midwest

      This is an important topic! Thanks for sharing.

    • ZofiaLotus profile image


      5 years ago from Oregon

      Good article. I suffer from both major depression and dysthymia, starting from childhood. I really wish there had been more information like this around back then.

      It is a lot easier to manage major depression. Not only is dysthymia actually a bit more serious in that it is harder to manage as well as harder to treat. It is not uncommon that a higher dose is needed to manage dysthymia than major depression. (According to a psychiatrist). Dysthymia is also not treatable in about 10 to 20 percent of the population.

      Thank you again for your insightful article.


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