How Do I Know if My Child is Depressed?

What are the signs? What should I do?

As providers and caretakers, parents often view the world of their children as care free, worry free, and full of fun and adventure. After all, kids don’t have any of the responsibilities or pressures parents do. What do kids have to worry about?

Plenty! Our children can experience constant pressure from friends, school or families, and, with social media, there is no escape from what is worrying or troubling them. In fact, social media can intensify their feelings.

It’s normal for kids to feel sad or irritated, or to be in a bad mood from time to time, but, when negative feelings and thoughts linger for weeks or months, when there is no break from perceived pressures, the mind can start racing with anxiety, and the racing may accelerate until your child’s emotions spiral out of control.

I treat a lot of adolescents who are suffering from anxiety that could turn into depression. And, when depression is severe, it sometimes can lead to self-harm or suicide.

Depression can interfere with a child’s 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. Everyday problems may seem more difficult than they actually are.

As a parent, do not ignore the changes you are observing. Take them seriously. And, take action.

Know the warning signs of an anxiety disorder:

  • extreme weight gain or loss
  • sleep problems
  • rapid, drastic changes in personality
  • sudden change in friends, or lack of friends
  • skipping school often
  • falling grades
  • talk or jokes about suicide
  • tobacco, alcohol or drug use
  • isolation – your normally outgoing child is becoming increasingly withdrawn and spending more time alone
  • any other inappropriate or out-of-character behavior that lasts for more than a few weeks

How can you, as a parent, help your child who is suffering from an anxiety disorder?

  • Try to maintain open communication with your child so he or she will know it is OK to tell you what is going on with them. And the earlier you open the lines of communication, the better your chances of keeping them open.
  • Listen, offer support and show love.
  • Together, discuss ways to reduce anxiety like taking a break from social media, spending more time with family, or participating in activities your child truly enjoys.
  • Talk with your child about depression and mood changes. Kids might ignore, hide or deny how they feel, or they might not realize they’re depressed.
  • Let your kids know it’s OK to feel angry, scared, lonely or anxious, and that other people share those feelings. Reassurance is important.
  • Make time for your kids every day. Make yourself available. Don’t force them to talk, even if you know they are worried. Sometimes kids just feel better knowing you are there for them.
  • Be sure your child eats nutritious foods, gets enough sleep, and adds some physical activity to their routine. All of these help improve their mood.
  • Be patient and understanding. When depression causes your child to be moody or irritable, it’s easy for a parent to get angry or short-tempered. Remember, your child is going through a difficult time and needs you more than ever.

If you feel you are not seeing any positive changes in your child, seek help.

Find a trained therapist. In most cases, anxiety disorders can be treated with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT),  a type of talk therapy that helps adolescents and parents learn to manage worry, fear and anxiety.

In CBT, kids learn coping skills so they can face their fears and worry less. They learn that when they avoid what they fear, the fear stays strong, and when they face their fears, the fear gets weak and eventually goes away. It helps them replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and kids will learn mindfulness exercises to help them stay focused on the present, not what happened in school that day that upset them, for example.

Over time, through practice, kids learn to face fears, feel better, and worry less. They learn to manage situations they’re afraid of, and they can begin to relax and have some fun, again.

You can help by encouraging your child to take small steps forward. Don’t let your child give up or avoid what they’re afraid of.

Most importantly, be patient. It takes a while for therapy to work and for kids to feel better.