“It’s okay, you’re fine…”: Recognizing Childhood Depression

“Childhood is so fun, and kids are always happy!” “There’s no way my child is depressed, they laugh and have everything they want” The truth is childhood can be fun, kids are not always happy, and they can develop depressive symptoms.

I thought only adults experienced depression?

Children experience and feel many emotions, just as adults do, although they often require some help navigating, understanding, and managing those feelings. Depression is different than just feeling sad or ‘bummed out’ for an extended period of time. Many children who experience depression are not aware of their symptoms, why they might feel this way, or how to talk about these intense feelings. Discussing these feelings with your child and listening to their perspective can be intimidating. Be open to talking with your child about these feelings so you can build a trusting, supportive, and honest relationship.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Like many mental health diagnoses, depression symptoms can and do vary between each person. Depression is sometimes “missed” because it may look very similarly to emotional disturbances, aggressive outbursts, and defiant behaviors. While the key points of depression include increased feelings of sadness, feeling hopeless, and mood changes, here are some additional signs of depression in children:

  • Changes in sleep (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual)
  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Crying
  • Irritability and anger
  • Physical outbursts
  • Continuous feelings of sadness
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased focus
  • Physical body pains (stomachache, headache)
  • Thoughts, comments, or actions of self-harm, death, or suicide
  • Significant loss of interest in activities or hobbies that used to be exciting
  • Difficulty functioning in events with family and friends

Not all children will experience some or all of these symptoms. Many children will experience several of these throughout their childhood and lifetime through different times and different settings. Not all children who are diagnosed or are experiencing symptoms of depression will think about self-harm or attempt suicide. Symptoms of depression are dependent on the child’s extended family mental health history, environmental factors, prior trauma, and manifest differently in different genders. 

What can I do?

If you notice your child is struggling with any of those symptoms, approach your child with a gentle heart and listen to their concerns. Create an open discussion with your child about their feelings and express to your child, you are there for them and want to help them. Encourage your child to express their feelings and seek out counseling services whenever you and your child are ready.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s emotional well-being, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kelly Scafidi, MSW, LCSW, DT
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Developmental Therapist

Photo Credit: Kat J via Unsplash.com

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