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What are the Signs of Childhood Depression?

Depression can happen to children, but they usually don’t possess the emotional language or know-how to articulate that they are suffering from it. Most often it’s up to parents and caretakers to look for signs of childhood depression and determine if and when a child needs help. The depressed child may be very different than the depressed adult or teenager. However, there are useful checklists that can help parents be aware of what symptoms would most suggest this condition.

Children can certainly grieve and feel sadness, but when symptoms of grief and sadness last for longer than a few months, especially over an incident, depression may be indicated. For instance, a child whose parents are divorcing might have numerous behavioral, physical and social changes that suggest great sadness and devastation. What to look for is length of time symptoms continue. If no positive changes are noted within a few months of a difficult incident, the child may be experiencing true childhood depression. Best protection for kids experiencing tough transitions or losses is to enroll them in therapy so they can help learn how to cope sadness and other difficult feelings, and so a clinician can keep watch for signs of depression emerging.

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Things to look for in childhood depression are some physical changes like weight changes, disinterest in food or overeating, fatigue, poor sleep habits, tendency to walk slower with less running and playing, and increase in physical illnesses that appear to have no clear cause (headaches and stomachaches). Socially kids may express depression as frequent boredom or disinterest in activities, difficulty maintaining friends or withdrawal from peer groups, and poor concentration in school or significant reduction in grade values. Emotional changes could include irritability, tearfulness, shyness, clinginess, and discussion of dying, and self-hating or low self-esteem statements. Some children, even young ones, may hurt themselves or take their feelings out on others by causing physical harm.

It is very important to treat some symptoms with swift action. Kids that hurt themselves or others or who discuss wanting to do this, are in serious emotional trouble. Discussion of dying or suicide should be taken very seriously. Of course, some curiosity about dying might be expressed if a child has recently experienced a death in a family, especially that of a close family member or even a beloved pet. When this discussion crosses over into a wish to die, it may be true suicidality, and that child needs attention and care.

A few symptoms of childhood depression don’t necessarily mean a child is suffering from this condition. Parents should look for presence of several symptoms that may, when taken together, at least indicate a child should be screened for depression. Screening is usually done with help of psychologists, psychiatrist or therapists, and is best undertaken by those professionals with plenty of experience working with kids.

Just as childhood depression may be differently expressed than adult depression, treatment can be different too. Some children may require medication and therapy, and others may merely require therapy. What caused the depression, if cause can be determined, may be useful in indicating when medication is appropriate.

Therapy for depression in children may focus more on art or play therapy. Most younger kids don’t do very well in traditional talk therapy forums. They are more likely to respond to therapy methods that are specifically designed for kids.

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