Everyone, at any and all ages, feels sad at times. You may also experience edginess, isolation, and a sense of gloom and doom. This is inevitable and almost always quite temporary — for children or adults. Depression, however, is nothing to chalk up to life’s ups and downs. It’s a mood disorder that, while treatable, is considered serious.
At least 3 percent of children and teens (between the ages of 3 and 17) will experience depression. You may initially see it as mood swings or “growing pains.” But if two weeks go by with no relief, you will need to take a closer look.
What Causes Spot Depression In Children?
Quite often, children struggle with depression and anxiety at the same time. Therefore, chronic anxiety is the top risk factor. This is especially true for children from 12 to 17 years of age. Over three million adolescents (13.3 percent) in the U.S. have had at least one major depressive episode. Meanwhile, nearly 32 percent of those adolescents have an anxiety disorder. Other risk factors include having mental disorders in your family history and the typical, puberty-related hormonal changes.
This brings us to the role of life stressors. Childhood can be stressful and such stress has been found to increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with depression. Here are just some of the common life stressors for children of all ages:
- Conflict or violence in their home
- Parents getting separated or divorced
- Academic stress and/or changing to a new school
- Bullying – either in person or online
- Struggling with a medical illness, injury, or disability
For adolescents and teens, you can add in:
- Not getting enough sleep
- Social pressures
- Preparing to apply for college
- Pressure due to academic and/or athletic performances
- Dating and relationships
- Not feeling prepared to move into adulthood
These risk factors cover a lot of ground and most kids will negotiate them without becoming depressed. This makes it all the more essential that parents learn how to recognize red flags.
How To Spot Depression In Children
General Signs That May Emerge From Ages 3 to 17
- Palpable sadness punctuated by crying spells
- Losing interest in activities that once excited them
- Becoming socially withdrawal
- Explained physical symptoms like headaches, low energy, and appetite changes
- Major shifts in sleep habits
- Regularly being absent from school
- Decline in academic performance and grades
- Inability to concentrate
- Prone to anger and irritability (tantrums in younger children)
- Feeling hopeless with low self-esteem
- Threatening to run away from home
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying, self-harm, and suicide
Signs of Depression More Specific to Adolescents and Teens
Besides all those listed above, an older child with depression may engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse or reckless driving. They seem overwhelmed by any decision they face and this leads to them having a short, volatile temper. All of these behavioral changes frequently result in extreme feelings of guilt, shame, or self-hatred.
Needless to say, each child’s situation and personality will play a role. But, again, if these red flags arise and stick around for more than two weeks, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Do Depressed Children Attempt Suicide?
The short answer is sometimes. Roughly 9 percent of high school students have attempted suicide and even more think about it. These numbers are on the rise. Less frequently, younger children may experience suicidal ideation. This is not meant to instill undue fear but rather highlight the importance of noticing the signs above along with a child giving away possessions and partaking in extreme self-isolation.
For all of these reasons, parents are advised to pay close attention and err on the side of caution when it comes to asking for help.