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Last Updated: September 5, 2020
While it is okay for children to have occasional blues of sadness and anger, it is another thing when they become extremely angry, irritable, and always on edge for spells lasting up to 2 weeks. Of course, parents should be more concerned when these emotional extremes stretch for months and years. They could be warning signs that a child is depressed and needs pediatric depression treatment!
It is worth noting that depression in children is becoming prevalent in the 21st Century because kids today go through childhood development in quite unique ways compared to their peers, decades ago. They face unique challenges due to emerging global culture, urbanization, and of course, technology.
Other factors known to cause anxiety and depression in children today include:
- bullying and learning challenges at school and online
- starting school or changing to a new school
- separation from friends
- family conflicts & problems such as violence, divorce, parent absenteeism, etc
- physical disabilities
- emotional challenges due to the death of a friend, lack of money, or medical problems
- sexual abuse
- substance abuse
- environmental factors such as living in a war zone
- personality disorder
- sleep deprivation
- family history of depression
Understanding and diagnosing depression and anxiety
Depression is a disorder that affects a person’s mood, behavior, and health. It is characterized by low mood, loss of interest, a sense of hopelessness, and poor health.
Common types of depression that affect children include major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, disruptive mood disorder, bipolar disorder, and atypical depression.
Every parent should be concerned when the symptoms of depression mentioned above persist for longer than is necessary.
Depression is the principal cause of illness and disability in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been issuing warnings about this pathology for years, given that it affects over 300 million people all over the world and is characterized by a high risk of suicide (the second most common cause of death in those aged between 15 and 29)https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00543/full
In a 2018 report, only 50% of depressed children receive the much-needed diagnosis. This means that many others are left to wander around, on the brink of serious complications such as suicide. According to WHO, suicide cases ‘resulting from depression’ is the 2nd leading cause of death among the youths aged 15 to 29.
So, how do you tell your child is depressed, & needs help?
Child depression is often ignored because of the semblance it has with common emotional turbulences children go through. A little digging, however, should make you figure out what is ‘safe’ depression and not, and why should sort out the emotional battles in your child before something goes wrong!
1. Sadness & hopelessness:
Sadness that stretches for days is symptomatic of persistent depressive disorder. This emotional pain is sometimes accompanied by crying and tearfulness. Sadness becomes a problem when it builds up for longer than is necessary, usually due to bullying, or after the death of a friend, etc. Hopelessness arises when a child feels unloved at home and at school and nobody is coming to his rescue.
2. Anger, irritability & hostility:
Your 10-year child may exhibit extreme anger, irritability, and even hostility on a daily basis which is characterized by intense outbursts and very bad tempter, in what is known as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, or even bipolar disorder. This mood change goes beyond the basic child tantrums and will require medical attention if it persists for up to 12 months.
3. Low self-esteem:
When a child feels out of place, distances himself from others socially, and has low levels of motivation and interest, then surely he is battling depression. A child with low self-esteem feels unsure about everything and easily falls prey to taunts and criticism from peers and adults. This leads to poor performance at home and at school and withdrawal from active participation in social and other activities.
4. Fatigue & other ill health:
When your child suddenly loses interest in what used to be exciting, looks fatigued, and has trouble sleeping, he is probably a victim of major depression. Besides tiredness, your child may complain of frequent headaches and stomach pains.
5. Change in appetite:
Bullying, lack of attention, poor planning, and violence can distract a child from eating correctly. He can eat less or more than is necessary. Sometimes children simply become picky eaters. Excessive eating and weight gain accompanied by other symptoms point to a disorder known as atypical depression. Besides depression, other multiple other reasons can interfere with child eating habits.
6. Lost executive functioning skills:
You will know your child is depressed when suddenly what was routine becomes a chore. Your child will become poor in making decisions, becomes forgetful, lost, and incapable of planning out stuff in what is known as a persistent depressive disorder.
7. Sleep disorders:
When your child sleeps for less or more hours than is necessary, then probably he is suffering from a persistent depressive disorder. Children above 3 years should sleep for up to 12 hours at night. Less than that is bad, whereas consistent sleep for over 13 hours and more is a little to the extreme. A child will oversleep (hypersomnia) and undersleep (insomnia) due to multiple depressive disorders.
Other telltale signs that your child is depressed include, withdrawal from social and other activities, age regression, mood changes from high to low and vice versa, low energy, suicidal thoughts, attempts to run away from home, and medical symptoms with no medical explanation, etc.
Family history of depression
Often times, depression runs through the family. A sudden change in brain mechanism due to hereditary factors can trigger a chain of depressive patterns, which repeat themselves from generation to generation. In addition, one parent with a history of depression can likely exacerbate the disorder in children.
All in all, every parent is charged with helping a child with depression, and seeking medical help as soon as possible.