Childhood Depression

Ten signs that your child may be depressed

Excerpted from When You Worry About the Child You Love

  1. Your child states he or she is sad. This is the most obvious sign of depression. One moment of mild sadness does not constitute depression, but prolonged, intense sadness does. We must be careful not to overlook a child’s ongoing complaint of being sad, simply because we cant bear to hear it or we’re too busy. Bur if your child repeatedly complains about sadness, this must be attended to.
  2. Your child seems sad. This is the more subtle cousin to Number 1, and the one that parents can count on seeing. Sometimes a child will not come right out and say to a parent, “I’m sad” or “I’m depressed.” Instead the child shows his or her depression through actions, facial expressions, style of communication, body language, and so forth. We can usually tell when our children are out of sorts. However, sometimes it is hard for us to bear the idea that our children are hurting, and so we ignore what we are seeing. This tendency to deny our children’s emotional pain may be heightened when we are feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless ourselves, or when we fell at wit’s end as to how to help out.
  3. Your child loses interest in activities that used to please him or her, or your child loses interested in regular friends. When a child–or an adult for that matter–gets depressed, he or she tends to lose interest in the very activities that used to hold interest. It is as if depression acts as a kind of interest thinner, loosening the glue that holds a child’s interest in an activity or pastime.
  4. Your child seems unusually irritable. Testy, cranky behavior often masks depression in children (and adults). Instead of telling you that he is sad, your sixteen-year-old may tell you to go jump in a lake, or words to that effect. As obnoxious and off-putting as this moody behavior can be, it is important to consider if sadness may underlie it.
  5. Your child pays less attention to dress and personal hygiene. Many children, particularly boys, don’t pay much attention to this anyway, but the sign to watch out for is a noticeable change in dress or self-care. If your child starts looking more sloppy than usual, or lets her hair go unattended for uncharacteristically long periods, or seems unaware of his personal appearance, this could be a sign of depression.
  6. Your child’s memory and attention span shorten. Again, the key is a deviation from your child’s usual patterns of memory and attention. Some adolescents become so preoccupied in their depression that they start forgetting their assignments, forgetting to return telephone calls, or show up for appointments and obligations. They also demonstrate a marked reduction in attention span, and an inability to carry on an extended conversation without tuning out or to read a page without drifting back into their own personal worries and sense of gloom.
  7. Your child’s appetite or sleep pattern changes. Typically in depression there is weight loss, although there may be weight gain as well. And typically, there is sleep loss, although the individual may try to oversleep as well in an attempt to get away from the problems waking life brings. A variation on this theme is the adolescent who wants to watch hour and hours of mindless TV or go to the movies every day in an effort to escape, as if into sleep.
  8. Your child begins to use some substance such as tobacco or alcohol. Most adolescents experiment with tobacco, alcohol, or some other substance. However, if your child develops a habit, this may represent an attempt to self-medicate an underlying depression.
  9. Your child gets involved in some new potentially self-destructive behavior. This is a corollary to sign number 8. Just as a drug may be used by an adolescent to self-medicate, so may an activity be used for the same purpose. A high-risk activity can act as a kind of antidepressant. Driving a car fast can make you forget your troubles for the moment because it focuses your mind elsewhere. Daredevil stunts can give you a rush of adrenaline that purges the depressive feelings, at least for the moment. Gambling or even shopping can be antidepressant activities. Hence, if your child starts to get rather wild, this may paradoxically be a sign of depression.
  10. There is a family history of depression or certain other psychiatric conditions. The history doesn’t make the present diagnosis, of course; it simply increases the odds, as depression is a condition that can be inherited. The genes for depression seem to be associated with the genes for other conditions. Therefore you should look into a family history not only for depression but also for substance, abuse, manic-depressive illness, attention deficit disorder, disorders of impulse control such as gambling, stealing, or fire-setting, as well as for depressive behavior that perhaps was not formally diagnosed.

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