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Could my child be depressed?

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We all think of depression as one of the hazards of adult life, alongside stress, financial problems and work pressures. But it is increasingly recognised that children can get depressed too. And for ‘depressed’, read not just low, or temporarily unhappy, but actually unwell and in need of help or treatment. But how can you know the difference?

Can this really be happening to my child?

If you are still not convinced that depression can affect children and young people, take a look at the statistics. According to the Office of National Statistics, 10% of children in Great Britain aged between five and sixteen have a recognisable mental disorder, with 4% of children suffering from an emotional problem such as anxiety or depression.

Depression is a serious condition which interferes dramatically with the sufferer’s ability to manage day to day life. It brings a disabling level of sadness, despair, or anger. It can also be interlinked with other problems, such as alcohol and substance misuse, eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal feelings.

So depression can occur in children, and it can be devastating in its effects. What are the signs that you child’s ‘moodiness’ could actually be something far more serious?

What to look out for:

Everyone has ups and downs in life, and we all react to them to varying degrees. How much we react, and in what way, is largely a question of our individual make up, along with our upbringing and whether or not we have support available to us. If your child is unusually irritable, moody, tearful or withdrawn, it might just be that this is a passing reaction to something that has happened. However, you should be more concerned if your child’s reaction to an event appears to be excessive or prolonged, or if you can’t identify anything that caused the reaction in the first place.

A word of warning, though: teenagers and even pre-teens will be feeling the effects of hormones, which may magnify their reactions to all sorts of life events. However much you think you understand your child, you are not able to view life through their eyes. You may think that they are over-reacting to the end of a friendship, for example, but perhaps you are underestimating how intense childhood friendships can be and how much that particular person meant to them.

Child depressed

The key is to keep the lines of communication open and ensure that your child can talk things over with you. If you are worried about the scale of an emotional reaction, or feel that it is not linked to any particular life event, then ask them about it. Give opportunities for your child to explain why they are feeling so upset, and you might start to see that their reaction is not so extreme, after all.

But if you are still worried, then start thinking about your child’s day to day life. Is he or she eating and sleeping normally, carrying out all or most of their usual activities, and interacting with friends and family? If so, then the chances are that their mood will lift in time, with some patience and love from you. Children whose normal patterns of life are disrupted for more than a few weeks, and those who become very withdrawn, or who seem not to be getting pleasure from the activities that they once loved, are more of a worry.

What to do if your child is depressed

If you’re still worried after talking to your child, then go and see your G.P. The doctor will be reluctant to prescribe medication for a child or teenager, but most practices have counselling services available in-house. Approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which teaches people to re-frame their problems, can actually provide your child with skills which will help them to maintain good mental health for life. Your doctor can also refer on for other forms of more specialised help if need be, including child and adolescent psychiatry for more serious problems.

While your child is receiving help, make sure that you remain available too, to listen and to offer support. Your child needs to feel secure and cared for now, more than ever. There is no doubt that this is a worrying time for any parent, but all the evidence is that depression does improve over time, with the right kind of help. So remain hopeful and patient, and you will be able to see your child through this crisis.




About Paula Hendry

About Paula Hendry

Paula Hendry is a freelance consultant in the field of social work. She has been a social worker for twenty five years, and specialises in mental health. Paula has two children and writes in her spare time (which is virtually non-existent.)

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