COULD YOUR CHILD HAVE MEDICAL DEPRESSION? SYMPTOMS TO BE AWARE OF
Periodic blue moods are common in young children as well as adolescents. But when “down” periods cross the line into chronic depression, a serious problem is brewing. Medically diagnosable depression has occurred in children as young as three, and may become a lifelong problem: potential consequences include physical illness, drug addiction, and even suicide.
There’s no reason to panic and turn overprotective (which can also make depression worse by fueling resentment and withdrawal), but neither do you want to learn too late that what you dismissed as “kid moods” was something worse. So how do you tell depression (the illness) from being depressed (having a bad day or week)?
Symptoms of Possible Medical Depression
The most important question: How long are “down in the dumps” symptoms lasting? One or two bad days, or even a bad week, happens to everyone on occasion; but anyone who’s consistently “down” for two weeks may be in trouble, especially if the “bad mood” is affecting regular routines.
Besides visible brooding and losing interest in regular activities, common depression symptoms include:
- Unprovoked mood swings
- Strong objections against going to school or completing regular chores
- Lack of enthusiasm for positive circumstances
- Seeming to move in slow motion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in eating, sleeping, or grooming habits
- Unexplained physical aches and pains
- Complaints of feeling worthless or having nothing to look forward to
What to Do
- Skip the “cheer up” coaxing. If a child has true depression, that will just add to the pain.
- Let your child cry on your shoulder and talk her feelings out—without your interrupting with unsolicited advice.
- As soon as possible, make a doctor’s appointment to find out if your child really has medical depression—or some physical condition generating the blue mood. Professional advice is essential for dealing with such a situation long-term.
- If you find cause to suspect that the problem is tied to abuse or bullying, report it to the proper authorities. (Beware of responding to complaints about bullies with, “Just ignore them”: it takes a lot of self-confidence to follow that advice properly, and you might just convince your child that no one cares—or you might be enabling a truly dangerous situation.)
- If your child says anything along the lines of, “I want to die,” take it seriously and get professional advice immediately to head off any suicide-attempt risks. Remain calm and understanding throughout; call a friend for your own emotional support if necessary.
- On the other side of the coin, know that many cases of depression are dysthymic—not bad enough to impair everyday functioning, but bad enough to generate a persistent black cloud in the mind. If this is the case with your child, don’t be lulled into thinking it’s no big deal. Mild depression can get worse; and in any case, the stress it creates will affect your child’s ability to achieve full potential.
Whether or not your child has a genuine case of depression, encourage him to make habits of healthy-mood-generating activities: proper nutrition; sleep; exercise; prayer and meditation; personally meaningful projects; minimizing stress and overload. Build these habits for yourself as well: happy parents have the best chance of raising happy kids!