According to figures from the World Health Organisation, more than 260 million people worldwide suffer from depression. And it's not only adults who are diagnosed with this illness. Children as young as three or four years old can experience depression.
But the signs of depression in children are subtle - the symptoms are not always the same as in adults, and they can be hard to spot. Older teenagers also may show signs that they are unhappy, and as a parent, you need to be able to identify them and how you can help your child.
If a child seems sad, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are depressed. All children experience the "blues" occasionally as they grow and develop. But if the sadness persists and interferes with school and their usual interests and activities, this may signify that they are suffering from depressive illness. Bear in mind that while this can be a severe condition, it's also very treatable, and you will be able to find help for your child.
Try to be a good, safe listener and non-judgemental. Provide support and point to positive options, including assistance from mental health specialists. Point out that everyone struggles with problems in their lives from time to time and try to normalise the concept of seeking help.
If there's a family history of depression, and if your child is old enough to understand, talk to your child about it. Doing this will help them realise that their depression isn't their fault.
The symptoms of depression in children vary significantly, and a child may not experience all of them or will experience different symptoms at different times. Look out for the following signs of unhappiness:
Although it is a rare occurrence in children under 12, younger children sometimes attempt suicide, which may be an impulse when they are angry or upset. Children with depressive symptoms and those with a family history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or sexual or physical abuse have a greater risk for suicide.
Children with depression may also begin using alcohol or drugs, especially if they are over 12.
The teenage years are sometimes characterised as a happy, carefree time, but this is not always the case - teens may struggle with similar life problems to adults. If you think your teen may be unhappy, here are some of the signs to watch out for:
One symptom of depression in teens is a deep sadness that lasts more than two weeks. In addition, teens with depression may have suicidal thoughts or talk about harming themselves by cutting or other methods.
If you think your teenager is not being open with you, reach out to their friends. Despite their best efforts, parents may be the last to find out that their child is suffering from depression. Friends can help spot signs and symptoms and warn the parents if their teenager is talking about death or suicide.
American researchers found that obese or overweight girls were almost twice as likely to be suffering from depression as girls with healthy body weight. So if your teen is unhappy and struggling with weight gain, it could be a symptom of depression.
Another sign is a change in eating habits, suddenly eating significantly less or more. Try to talk to your teenager about any problems bothering them.
Teenagers with depression frequently have changed sleep patterns. Some may sleep far more than expected, while others experience insomnia and have trouble sleeping.
Changes in energy levels and activity can also be symptoms of depression. For example, some teens may show agitated behaviour, pacing, wringing their hands or chewing their nails. Others may be lethargic, showing less activity and slower movements than usual.
Warning signs that your usually conscientious teenager is depressed include abusing drugs or alcohol, being promiscuous or getting into trouble with the law. In addition, teenagers may feel hopeless, worthless or guilty and develop a negative attitude. Depression may also cause them to be moody, over-sensitive and easily upset.
Other signs of depression in teens include being dissatisfied with their appearance and spending far longer than usual getting ready to go out or school. They may constantly seek reassurance from family or teachers. Other signs that a teen is unhappy include feeling they are unlovable or of no value. Bach Flower Mix 66 can help teenagers overcome feelings of dejection and restore a positive self-image. Depressed teenagers often fall into a spiral of negative, self-critical thoughts, so take time to talk things over with your teenager and find out why they feel like this.
If you are worried that your child is unhappy, encourage them to talk about what's bothering them. Sometimes a child will find it easier to talk to someone other than a parent, so you may find it helpful to ask a grandparent, teacher, uncle or aunt to help support your child. It can sometimes be challenging to get children to talk about their feelings, so spend time with them and look out for clues as they play. And finally, if you are still concerned for your child after talking things through, don't hesitate to get in touch with your family doctor for advice. A wide range of treatments is available to help your child be happy again.
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