In order to recognize when a child is
depressed, it is important to become aware of the symptoms and
the signs to look for. Because children are not as articulate as
adults in expressing their emotions, it is unlikely that they
will come to us and say "I'm depressed" as an adult might do. In
fact, they may not even realize themselves that something is out
of the ordinary. Children live in a world controlled by adults
and can easily feel powerless over what is happening to them.
This puts the responsibility upon us as adults to look for signs
of trouble and help children cope.
The warning signs of depression fall basically
into four different categories: emotional signs, cognitive signs
(those involving thinking), physical complaints, and behavioral
changes. Not every child who is depressed experiences every
Depending upon the degree of depression, they may
experience a few symptoms or many. Also, severity of each
symptom may vary.
Typical moods or emotions experienced by
children suffering from depression include:
Sadness - The child may feel despondent and
hopeless. They may cry easily. Some children will hide their
tears by becoming withdrawn.
pleasure or interest - A child who has always enjoyed
playing sports, for example, may suddenly decide to not try
out for the team this year. They may complain of feeling
"bored" or reject an offer to participate in an activity,
which they've always enjoyed in the past.
Anxiety - The child may become anxious,
tense, and panicky. The source of their anxiety may well
give you a clue to what's causing their depression.
Turmoil - The child may feel worried and
irritable. They may brood or lash out in anger as a result
of the distress they are feeling.
A depressive mood can bring on negative,
self-defeating thoughts. These skewed thought processes may help
perpetuate the problem because they make the child resistant to
words of encouragement or advice. Once the depression lifts, the
child will be much more receptive to help. The signs to look for
Difficulty organizing thoughts - People with
depression often have problems concentrating or remembering.
In children, this may be evidenced by problems in school or
an inability to complete tasks.
Negative view - People with depression may
become pessimistic, perceiving themselves, their life, and
their world in a very negative light.
Worthlessness and guilt - Depressed children
may obsess over their perceived faults and failures, feel
tremendous guilt, and declare themselves worthless.
Helplessness and hopelessness - Depressed
children often believe that there is nothing they can do to
relieve their feelings of depression. In particular, a child
with dysthymia may perceive that this is "just the way it
is" because this is their only experience.
Feelings of isolation - A child who has been
picked on frequently may become very sensitive to slights
from his peers.
Suicidal Thoughts -
Thoughts of death are not limited to adults. Children may
also wish that they were dead and express these thoughts.
Depression is not just an illness of the mind.
It causes changes in us physically as well.
Changes in appetite or weight - Many people
with depression find that their appetite either decreases or
increases. Children who usually have a healthy appetite may
suddenly lose interest in eating. Children may also respond
in the opposite way, but eating too much to self-medicate
Sleep disturbances -
Children with depression may have difficulty falling asleep
and staying asleep once they do. They may wake too early or
oversleep. They may have trouble staying awake during the
day at school.
Sluggishness -Children with depression often
talk, react, and walk slower. They may be less active and
playful than usual.
Depressed children may show signs of agitation by fidgeting
or not being able to sit still.
These signs will be the most obvious and easy
for your detect.
Avoidance and withdrawal - Children with
depression may avoid everyday or enjoyable activities and
responsibilities. They may withdraw from friends and family.
The bedroom can become a favorite place to escape and find
Clinging and demanding -
The depressed child may become more dependent on some
relationships and behave with an exaggerated sense of
Activities in excess - A depressed child may
appear to be out of control in regard to certain activities.
He or she may spend long hours playing a video game or
Restlessness - The
restlessness brought on by depression may lead to such
behaviors as fidgeting, acting up in class, or reckless
Self-Harm - Depressed individuals may cause
themselves physical pain or take excessive risks.
Self-injury is one example of such behavior.
If you suspect that a child is depressed, the
next step is seeking professional help in obtaining a diagnosis
and treatment. This will be addressed on the following page.