Symptoms and Treatment of Childhood Depression

We all know when an adult is sad and depressed – they cry easily, prefer to be alone, and can verbally express their feelings. It is often hard, however, to identify depression in young children because it often mimics other disorders and concerns, including inattention, impulsively, aggression and learning problems. Some warning signs that parents and teachers should look out for include:

Symptoms of Childhood Depression:Depressed Boy

  • Easily comes to tears, feeling sad
  • Feeling worthless
  • Not interested in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Irritable and often in a bad mood
  • Increase in aggressive and externalizing behaviors
  • Changes in sleep behavior (either sleeping more or less than normal)
  • Changes in eating behavior (either dramatic increase or decrease)
  • Decrease in energy and easily fatigued
  • Frequently turned away and neglected by peers
  • Decrease with academic performance
  • Difficulty staying still

As you can see, there are a plethora of symptoms of depression and every child who is depressed will express a variety of the above symptoms. If you notice changes with your child’s behavior and the onset of any of the above symptoms, the first thing that you should do is contact your child’s pediatrician. It is always important to identify whether or not there are medical concerns at the root of the symptoms.

Treatment Of Childhood Depression:

Once a medical diagnosis has been ruled out, the next step is to have an evaluation from a psychologist or neuropsychologist in order to determine if it is depression or something else. For example, children who are depressed often do poorly with their academic work; however, children who have learning disorders are often at risk for depression. It is of the up-most importance to identify what issues your child faces in order to determine the most effective interventions possible.

Once it has been determined that the child suffers from depression, it is then warranted to develop a multidisciplinary approach to intervention. Research demonstrates that the number one type of psychotherapy for depression is Cognitive Behavior Therapy. CBT is a structured therapy that specifically teaches children skills and coping mechanisms to use when they are depressed.

It is also important that the child’s parents and teachers are educated on the signs and symptoms of depression. These children can often be perceived as irritable and aggressive – it is important that the child is not labeled as being “bad” or “behavior disordered,” but rather that the behaviors are recognized as a symptom of the emotional concerns. If the child does not demonstrate marked improvement with CBT and parent/teacher education, it is then recommended that the parents and child have a consultation with a pediatric psychiatrist in order to determine if pharmacological intervention is warranted.

Depression in children is often difficult to identify. These children can often seem disruptive and aggressive. Furthermore, many other conditions mimic depression or have depression as a secondary concern. Therefore, it is recommended that the child have a comprehensive evaluation in order to determine whether or not he or she truly has depression. Once the depression has been identified, it is pertinent that a multidisciplinary approach be applied to the treatment.

 If you are unsure if your child is depressed, feel free to leave a comment or questions below, and I will respond appropriately! 

4 replies
  1. Marnie
    Marnie says:

    Your first paragraph is so important for parents to know–that depression looks very different in children! Especially with younger children, we have to pay attention to their play themes to find out if and when troubling emotions are behind “bad behavior”. How can we help parents identify when a tantrum has gone too far and might be a sign of needing help?

    Reply
  2. Andre Beluchi
    Andre Beluchi says:

    During the past week, my wife and I have noticed unusual behavior from our daughter. Ever since she moved up to a higher grade in High School, she became more sad. My wife and I aren’t sure why, but we’ve been thinking about introducing her to someone that helps children with depression.

    Reply

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