4 Signs Your Child is Depressed (and 4 Things You Can Do About It)
It’s a common teenage stereotype – the surly kid dressed in black retreating to his orher room after dinner not to be seen or heard from again until breakfast. But when does this kind of retreating become something to worry about? According to the National Institute of Health, 2 out of every 100 young children and 8 out of 100 teenagers are depressed.
How can you tell if your child is one of them? And if he or she is, what can you do about it?
Jody Goodell-Lange is a licensed social worker and the Clinical Director for Lutheran Social Services Luther Hall, a specialized residential psychiatric treatment facility that serves youth ages 10 to 18. She says it’s not always easy to tell if your child is depressed, especially as they’re approaching middle and high school years.
“There is so much they’re dealing with – hormones, development issues. It adds to everything and you sometimes don’t know if something is really wrong,” she says.
But Goodell-Lange says there are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if your child might need help.
How long has this been going on?
Adolescence can be a roller coaster ride – one day up, the next day down. But if your child seems down all the time and doesn’t seem to find joy in anything, it might be time to seek help from a medical professional or counselor. Goodell-Lange says sometimes parents can tell if a bad mood seems to be going on longer than it should.
How is their mood affecting their life?
According to NIH, children who experience anxiety or depression are more like to perform poorly in school, abuse substances and miss out on social experiences.
“Are they pulling away from social involvement or not participating in activities or school?” Goodell-Lange asks. “Sometimes they may seem to be irritable or even aggressive on a regular basis.”
Did anything trigger the mood?
It’s natural to feel down in the dumps after grandma died or after a boyfriend broke up with you, but if the depressive mood doesn’t appear to triggered by anything, it could be a sign of something more serious.
Does your child have any physical symptoms?
Goodell-Lange says there is a definite correlation between anxiety or depression and actual physical ailments. Headaches and stomach aches are most common but Goodell-Lange says she has seen an increase in strep throat and ear infections in children with mental health issues because their immune system seems to be compromised.
After asking yourself these questions, Goodell-Lange says there are a few more things parents can do to get their children smiling again.
Get them talking
It seems easy enough, but in a world of distractions, parents need to make an extra effort to talk to their children to learn what they can about what’s going on. But Goodell-Lange says it’s not about interrogation.
“I think one of the best things is to go for a walk – don’t ask them any questions,” she says. “They end up telling you things they don’t even realize they’re telling you.”
The same could be said for car rides or other quiet times at home. She says consider getting to the point and asking, “What do you think would make you feel better?” You might be surprised that they have an answer.
And speaking of distractions…
2. Consider a change in social media
Goodell-Lange says children are getting involved with social media at younger ages every year and that means more exposure to things that could stress them out or add to their depression.
“It used to be we could tell parents to turn off the nightly news at supper time, but it’s not that easy anymore. Social media is everywhere and in certain kids, it can cause them to ruminate about the bad things they see,” Goodell-Lange says.
Rather than completely shutting off a child’s social media feeds, consider making changes to the platforms to ensure positive interactions. This could mean restricting certain sites or blocking negative individuals.
3. Don’t rush into medication, but don’t discount it either
Goodell-Lange says some children will benefit from medication but it shouldn’t be seen as the only solution. Often times, medication should be paired with counseling or even just “talking it over” with a trusted friend, parent, doctor or even grandparent.
Goodell-Lange has counseled children for more than 30 years and says sometimes just playing a game with a child helps them to open up. “You’d be surprised how much they tell you during a game of Go Fish,” she says.
4. Don’t panic
When parents suspect their child has a mental health issue, it’s easy to catastrophize that depression will become a lifelong struggle for them. But Goodell-Lange says many children will improve after two or three sessions with a counselor.
“It’s not necessarily ‘growing out of it’ – it’s more that the child has learned ways to cope with their problems,” she says. “They can recognize that their head is racing with thoughts and learn how to deal with it.”
More than anything, dealing with childhood depression must be taken one day at a time. As a parent, it’s about educating yourself on what you can do to help your child get better. Other times, it’s just about being patient. “Sometimes it’s about learning to be okay without knowing the answer right away,” Goodell-Lange says.