Kids and depression

sad child

2,5% of kids in America are depressed (stats in South Africa were not available – from the Anxiety and Depression Support Group). Children as young as 3 years old can be identified with depression. It is more common in boys under 10 years and more common in girls during puberty.

Depression won’t go away by itself – it is a recognized illness that needs treatment!

Signs and symptoms

Signs of depression in kids are usually masked and appear more as anger and outbursts than a feeling of depression.  These symptoms vary from child to child.

  • Anger/outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Sadness/crying
  • Poor self esteem
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Talks a lot about negative feelings/ideas
  • Some kids eat more/some eat less
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleeps more/less
  • Tiredness
  • Physical complaints especially headaches and tummy aches
  • Guilt feelings
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Decreased interest in activities he usually loved e.g. rugby
  • Poor performance at school
  • Decreased attention to personal hygiene
  • Change in the way they dress
  • Kids will start to give away their possessions
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions: this is rare but more probable when sexual/emotional abuse is present

If these symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks please take your child to a health care professional e.g. psychologist/psychiatrist/play therapist. The primary caregiver will also be interviewed as to the severity of the child’s symptoms.  Consulting with the teacher is also valuable as to determine how behaviour at school has changed.

What causes depression?

Depression is caused by a variety of factors:

  • Environmental
  • Family history (genetic predisposition): if mom or dad suffered from depression
  • A certain life event: death of a parent/molestation/big car accident/parents getting divorced
  • Physical health: experiencing severe pain/the threat of dying/chronic illness
  • Biochemical disturbance: neurotransmitters not transporting enough serotonin or dopamine

What kind of treatment is necessary?

If a child is diagnosed with depression medication will be prescribed to balance out the biochemical disturbance in the body.

Play therapy for young kids or psychotherapy for older children is a must as they get the chance to play/talk through their feelings and learn coping strategies.

Sometimes family therapy is also recommended.

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