Mental health professionals now claim that many children suffer from clinical depression, and that in fact children are just as likely to have major depression, as are adults. In adults, depression tends to be easier to recognize, whereas a child with depression may simply be labeled as moody, sensitive or grouchy. These labels don’t do much to help children with true cases of depression, and since risk of suicide grows when true depression is present it is very useful to recognize the symptoms of depression in children.
It’s important to understand that symptoms of depression in children vary in different age groups. Furthermore, all children may at one time or another exhibit a few of these symptoms. Key to catching true depression is understanding that these symptoms occur regularly, generally without remission, for a period lasting at least a month. Sometimes children with bipolar disorder especially bipolar two, which does not include manic states, completely miss out on being diagnosed. When in a hypomanic state, children may merely seem cheerful, which is incorrectly diagnosed as recovery from depression. When children move from symptoms of depression to relatively cheery states on a cyclical basis, they may have bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of depression in children who are preschool aged may be most difficult to define and treat. In general psychiatrists or psychotherapists look for children who are listless frequently, who cry frequently, and who show decrease in interest in normal activities like playing with toys. This can be extremely hard to determine, since children progress through developmental stages quickly.
Mood and interest can alter suddenly, and two year olds, for example, are known for their ability to throw significant fits. What tends to help determine the condition is that there is a sudden change to listlessness, crying much more than before, and disinterest in activities, and that this change persists past the time where you could expect a developmental change to affect a child. Other things must also be taken into account like sudden changes in home environment, abuse, and other undiagnosed illnesses.
It becomes easier to recognize symptoms of depression in children who are elementary school aged, from about 5-12 years old. Such children may be described as moody. They may look or seem sad. They may have little energy, and poor sleep patterns. Some children who become depressed during these years show a decrease in academic success, and may not want to participate in activities they previously enjoyed. They also may close themselves off from other family members and some seem obsessed with the concept of death. These symptoms, especially a high number of them, when they persist for more than a month, should be evaluated first by a family physician and then a good child therapist.
Teenagers, who are often described as moody in any case, may complain of always being tired. They may refuse to do homework, drop activities they formerly enjoyed, and be argumentative or seem angry all the time. A therapist should immediately see a child who exhibits behavior like cutting, or who talks of suicide.
Help is available for children at all ages. As parents, being alert to the symptoms of depression in children, and seeking treatment or diagnosis if you suspect depression, can help save your child and your family much heartache.