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Parent’s Guide to Childhood Depression

All children go through a vast range of emotions as they develop. And of course this includes sadness occasionally. But having a down day, is a different thing entirely to depression.

In this article, we’ll help you understand when your child’s sadness may have become a depressive illness, and the treatments available. It’s very important to keep in mind that while depression is a serious illness, it’s also a treatable one.

How to tell if your child is depressed.

Childhood symptoms of depression are often explained away as normal emotional and psychological changes or the ‘blues’. But when sadness becomes persistent, or interferes with normal life—when things like hobbies, interests, schoolwork, family life or socialisation suffer—then it may be more than sadness. It may be depression.

Symptoms of depression in children can vary widely and can include:

  • Anger or ‘acting out’
  • Ongoing feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Loss of interest in school
  • Poor academic performance
  • Change in appearance
  • Vocal outbursts or bouts of crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Physical ailments (such as stomach aches and headaches) that don’t respond to treatment
  • Being more sensitive to rejection
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Use of drugs or alcohol, especially over the age of 12

It’s important to note that not all children will have all, or even most of these symptoms. And some may even continue to do well in certain structured environments—such as school. But those children struggling with significant depression will very likely exhibit a change in social activities, a drop in academic performance (including a loss of interest in school) and even a change in appearance.

Who is the most likely to get depressed?

Research shows that in children between the ages of four and 11, almost 14% experienced a mental disorder. And 1.4% experienced major depressive disorder. This condition is more common in boys than in girls, until the teenage years. After the age of 16, girls become much more susceptible to depressive disorder.

Children with a family history of depression are also at higher risk of depression themselves. Additionally, children from chaotic families or from families with a large amount of conflict, and children who abuse alcohol or drugs, are also at greater risk of depression.

While the actual incidences of depression may be small in number, their impact is wide. In fact, in comparison to other types of mental health disorders, depressive disorders have a particularly negative impact on young people’s ability to live their day-to-day life. In one study, over 40% of children and adolescents with depression reported that their symptoms had a severe impact on their daily functioning.

What causes childhood depression?

Depression in children is caused by a combination of factors, just as it is in adults. It might relate to life events, what’s going on in their family, physical health, genetics or biochemical upset. But it’s important to recognise that depression is not a condition that will go away without proper treatment.

How is childhood depression diagnosed?

If you’ve noticed symptoms of depression in your child, and they’ve lasted two weeks or more, it’s time to reach out for professional help.

First, make an appointment with your GP to make sure there aren’t any physical reasons for the symptoms that you’re seeing. Then reach out to our expert team, or another mental health care professional who specialises in helping children. This person will then conduct a mental health evaluation that can include interviews with you and your child, information gathering from friends, family, teachers and other people that know your child well and other psychological tools.

While there’s no specific medical or psychological tests that clearly diagnose depression, tools like questionnaires and interviews can help the process.

What are the treatment options?

The treatment of childhood depression is very similar to the treatment of depression in adults. It can include counselling or medication, or a combination of both. And most mental health professional believe that the best, most effective treatments for childhood depression include a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Children can benefit vastly from learning the skills that can be taught as part of therapy. And those skills will stay with them forever, helping them into the future.

Of course, anytime your child is taking any medications, it’s important to start and monitor then under the care of a trained professional.

A Note on Suicide.

Suicide is relatively rare in Australia for children under the age of 12, but it’s not unheard of. You should always be very vigilant for any signs that might put your child at increased risk for suicide. And if you do see any signs, seek out professional help immediately.

Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our Clinicians; or send us an Appointment Request via this website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.