Depression is the single most common mental health problem in adults and is becoming increasingly more common in children and teens. An estimated 5 percent of children and teens will have symptoms of depression at any given time. Children, however, are often not able to articulate their feelings as clearly as adults and have difficulty asking for help. It is important for parents and caregivers to recognize the signs and symptoms of childhood depression so that they can advocate best for their child’s treatment.
The warning signs of childhood depression fall basically into four different categories: emotional signs, cognitive signs (those involving thinking), physical complaints, and behavioral changes. A depressed child does not usually display every symptom.
The emotional signs of childhood depression include sadness, loss of pleasure or interest, anxiety and irritability. A sad child may feel withdrawn and hopeless and cry easily. A child suffering from loss of pleasure may consistently complain of being bored and express no interest in activities or sports they previously found enjoyable. The anxious child may be tense or easily panic without an apparent logical reason. An irritable child often feels worried and can lash out in anger as a result of the turmoil they are experiencing.
The cognitive signs of childhood depression are extremely important because a depressive mood distorts the thought process and can cause negative, self-deprecating thoughts to overwhelm the child. These thoughts can make a child resistant to encouragement or parental concern. The signs to look for include a pervasive negativity, belief that they are worthless, sense of helplessness, difficulty organizing thoughts or completing tasks, intense sensitivity to criticism and suicidal thoughts. A child with a negative view becomes very pessimistic and finds little good in themselves, their life and even the world. Depressed children can obsess over their faults and perceived failures often to point of feeling tremendous guilt and worthlessness. The hopeless child believes there is nothing they can do to change their feelings of depression because this is their only experience. Adults are not the only ones who experience and express thoughts of death when in the depths of depression. Children often express these thoughts but are not able to explain what is at the root of their suicidal feelings.
Childhood depression has a variety of physical symptoms including sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, agitation and/or lethargy. Children suffering from depression often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They can wake too early or oversleep which translates into difficulties staying awake and alert at school. These children often find themselves losing interest in eating or overeating to compensate for their disturbing feelings. Children with depression can show signs of agitation by being unable to sit still and constantly fidgeting. Children showing signs of lethargy may be slower to react and be less playful than usual.
Physical signs of Childhood depression are usually the most obvious and as a result are often the most widely parent reported symptoms. Physical symptoms of depression include self-harm, clingy/demanding behavior, preoccupation with specific activities, avoidance and general restlessness. Depressed kids and teens may cause themselves physical pain or self-injury. Cutting is common among depressed teens as is excessive risk taking behavior. Children often become more clingy or demanding in their relationships and become dependent upon others to build their sense of security. The depressed child can become preoccupied with certain activities and engage in them excessively. Parents often report the only thing a child wants to do is play video games for hours or they become overly interested in food. Avoidance and withdrawal are hallmarks of childhood depression. A child suddenly does not want to go to school or events with friends and family. Parents report that their depressed child will want to spend hours in their room rather than engage in activities that they previously enjoyed. Restlessness associated with depression can lead to acting out in school and engaging in reckless behavior.
If you feel as though your child is suffering from childhood depression the Center for Growth can help. Psychotherapy is helpful to children and may be all that is necessary to help them sort out their feelings and learn the skills they need to cope with life’s stresses.
Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most successful forms of treatment for childhood depression. This type of therapy focuses upon the role of thinking and belief systems as the root of depression. People with depression have thoughts and belief patterns that give them a negative perception of themselves and the world around them. During cognitive-behavioral therapy, the therapist works with the child to help them recognize their depressed thought pattern and realize a more positive and realistic view. Play therapy can help combat the symptoms of depression by engaging the child in their most basic form of expression in order to help them work through their inner conflicts, anxieties and insecurities.
Childhood depression is a serious mental health condition that can have significant and long-lasting effects on a child's overall well-being and development. If left untreated, childhood depression can lead to a range of negative outcomes:
- Academic and Social Impairment of depression: Children with untreated depression may struggle academically due to difficulties concentrating, lack of motivation, and decreased energy. They might also experience problems forming and maintaining friendships, leading to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
- Increased Risk of Other Mental Health Disorders Beyond Depression: Untreated childhood depression can increase the risk of developing other mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse problems, and more severe forms of depression later in life.
- Physical Health Issues from depression: Depression can have physical consequences, too. Untreated depression may lead to changes in appetite and sleep patterns, which can affect a child's overall health and development.
- Suicidal Ideation and Self-Harm from Untreated Depression: In severe cases, untreated childhood depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. It's crucial to take any signs of suicidal ideation seriously and seek professional help immediately.
- Interference with Developmental Milestones Caused By Depression: Depression during childhood can interfere with important developmental milestones, such as the development of a healthy self-esteem, emotional regulation, and coping skills. This can have long-term consequences on the child's ability to navigate challenges in adulthood.
- Family Dysfunction Influence on Depression: A child's untreated depression can strain family relationships, as parents and siblings may not understand the child's behaviors and emotions, leading to frustration and conflicts.
- Long-Term Emotional and Psychological Effects of Depression: Childhood experiences play a significant role in shaping an individual's emotional and psychological well-being. Untreated depression during childhood can contribute to negative self-perceptions, low self-worth, and difficulties in forming healthy relationships in adulthood.
It's important to note that childhood depression is treatable, and early intervention can make a significant difference in a child's prognosis. Effective treatments for childhood depression often include a combination of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and in some cases, medication. Parents, caregivers, and educators play a vital role in recognizing the signs of depression and seeking appropriate professional help for the child.
If you suspect a child is experiencing depression, it's essential to consult with a mental health professional who specializes in working with children and adolescents. They can provide a comprehensive assessment and develop an individualized treatment plan to address the child's needs.
You can call therapists directly by finding their phone numbers on their profile, or you can bypass the wait time and schedule directly online. If you prefer talking to a therapist first, you may call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with our intake department. Lastly, you can call our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267) 324–9564 to discuss your particular situation. For your convenience, we have five physical offices offices and can also work with clients virtually.
The Center for Growth Therapy Offices in PA, NJ, VA, RI, NM, FL, GA, CT
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360 West Ave, Floor 1, Ocean City, NJ 08226
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9044 Mann Drive, Mechanicsville Virginia, 23116
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173 Waterman St. Providence, RI 02906
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233 S. 6th Street, C-33, Philadelphia PA 19106
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