About Depression

It’s normal for kids to feel
sad, down, or irritated, or to be in bad moods from time to time. But when negative
feelings and thoughts linger for a long time and limit a child’s ability to function
normally, it might be depression.

Depression is a type of mood disorder. The main sign is when kids are sad, discouraged,
or irritable for weeks, months, or even longer. Another sign a kid might have depression
is negative thinking. This includes focusing on problems and faults, being mostly
critical and self-critical, and complaining a lot.

Depression can interfere with energy, concentration, sleep, and appetite. Kids
with depression may lose interest in activities and schoolwork, seem tired, give up
easily, or withdraw from friends or family.

When kids have depression, it’s hard for them to make an effort, even when doing
things they used to enjoy. Depression can make kids feel worthless, rejected, or unlovable.
It can make everyday problems seem more difficult than they actually are. When depression
is severe, it can lead kids to think about self-harm or suicide. 

Offer support and show your feelings of love and concern for your child like
               giving them a hug.

Recognizing Depression

It can be hard for parents
and other adults to know when a child is depressed. An irritable or angry mood might
seem like a bad attitude or disrespect. Low energy and lack of interest might look
like not trying. Parents (and kids and teens themselves) may not realize that these
can be signs of depression.

Because depression can show up in different ways and might be hard to see, it helps
to let a doctor know if feelings of sadness or bad moods seem to go on for a few weeks..

Diagnosing Depression
and Other Mood Disorders

When diagnosing depression and similar mood disorders, doctors and mental health
professionals use different categories. They all have depressed mood as a main symptom,
but they develop in different ways. For example:

  • Major depression is an intense episode of depression
    that has developed recently and
    has lasted for at least 2 weeks.
  • Chronic depression (also called dysthymia) is a milder depression
    that has developed more gradually, and has lasted for 2 years or longer.
  • Adjustment disorder with depressed
    mood is depression
    that has developed after an upsetting event — anything from a natural disaster
    to a death in the family.
  • Seasonal
    affective disorder
     is
    a kind of depression that is related to light exposure. It develops when hours of
    daylight are shorter; for example, during winter months.
  • Bipolar
    disorder
    (also called
    manic depression or bipolar depression) is a condition that includes episodes of major
    depression and, at other times, episodes of mania (emotional highs).
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation
    disorder is a pattern of
    intense, frequent temper tantrums; outbursts of aggression and anger; and a usual
    mood of irritability that has lasted for at least a year in a child older than 6.

Getting Help

Depression and other mood disorders
can get better with the right attention and care. But problems also can continue or
get worse if they’re not treated.

If you think your child might
be depressed or has a problem with moods:

Talk with your child about depression and moods. Kids might ignore, hide, or deny how they feel. Or they
might not realize that they’re depressed. Older kids and teens might act like they
don’t want help, but talk with them anyway. Listen, offer your support, and show love. 

Schedule a visit to your child’s pediatrician. The doctor will
probably do a complete physical exam. A full exam lets the doctor check your child
for other health conditions that could cause depression-like symptoms. If the doctor
thinks your child has depression, or a similar mood disorder, he or she may refer
you to a specialist for evaluation
and treatment.

Contact a mental health specialist. Depression can get better. But without help, it can last
or get worse. A child or adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist can evaluate your
child and recommend treatment.

Therapists treat depression and
other mood disorders with talk therapy, sometimes medicine, or both. Parent counseling
is often part of the treatment, too. It focuses on ways parents can best support and
respond to a kid or teen going through depression.

More Ways to Help

Treatment with a therapist is
important. But you play an important role, too. At home, these simple but powerful
things can help your
child deal with depression.

Be sure your child eats nutritious foods, gets enough sleep, and gets daily
physical activity. These have positive effects on mood.

Enjoy time together. Spend time with your child doing things you
both can enjoy. Go for a walk, play a game, cook, make a craft, watch a funny movie.
Gently encouraging positive emotions and moods (such as enjoyment, relaxation, amusement,
and pleasure) can slowly help to overcome the depressed moods that are part of depression.

Be patient and kind. When depression causes kids and teens to
act grumpy and irritable, it’s easy for parents to become frustrated or angry. Remind
yourself that these moods are part of depression, not intentional disrespect. Avoid
arguing back or using harsh words. Try to stay patient and understanding. A positive
relationship with a parent helps strengthen a child’s resilience against depression.
 

Date reviewed: August 2016

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