Shedding Light on Childhood Depression: Key Symptoms Every Parent Should Know

Childhood depression is a significant issue with potentially lifelong consequences when left untreated. Young children and adolescents with depression may find the issue difficult to pinpoint, as they may be unable to vocalize (or even comprehend) what they’re going through.

Childhood depression is often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed due to symptoms being attributed to normal developmental changes, lack of awareness among healthcare professionals and parents, atypical presentation (irritability, behavioral changes), communication challenges in expressing emotions, and stigma surrounding mental health.

For parents, understanding the symptoms of childhood depression and offering their kids adequate support is essential in steering them toward recovery. As children can rarely seek help on their own or even identify an issue independently, parental support is essential.

Another challenge that accompanies diagnosing childhood depression is the overlap in symptoms. For example, symptoms like low energy and change in sleeping patterns could suggest depression but could be something else entirely. The feelings of lethargy and apathy that accompany depression often require language and self-identification that kids may not have. Childhood depression often remains undiagnosed, as kids have less of a role burden than adults, meaning impairment is less obvious.

According to LifeStance’s 2022 State of Youth Mental health Report, depression symptoms are the reason 45% of parents sought therapy for their children.

Below are top 8 signs of Childhood Depression to look for:

1.   Low or Depressed Mood Daily

Most commonly, children with depression experience a persistent feeling of sadness or low mood that lasts the majority of the day, nearly daily. Unlike typical mood swings, these feelings don’t pass and can significantly affect your child’s daily life. Watch out for signs such as crying, lethargy, and a lack of response to positive events, as these may suggest depression when they last for more than two weeks.

2.   Feeling Uninterested In Doing Activities They Used to Enjoy

Another red flag occurs when your child loses interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. Whether it’s their favorite game, art class, or a beloved cartoon, if your child is consistently disinterested, it could be a sign of depression. If this disinterest persists for more than two weeks, and cannot be explained by something else, ask a psychiatric professional for guidance.

3.   Difficulty Concentrating

Depression can affect a child’s ability to focus, leading to a drop in school performance or difficulty completing tasks. They might seem more distracted, have a difficult time remembering instructions, or struggle to stick to even simple tasks. If their school flags a change in attitude toward learning, depression may be the cause.

4.   Trouble With Sleep

Depression can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleep). A shift in your child’s sleeping, like staying awake at night or napping frequently, can be a symptom of depression. If your child normally sleeps well and has a regular routine, changes in sleep can suggest a deeper issue.

5.   Slowed Movements

Depression can impact physical health, causing kids to lose their usual energetic nature and navigate the world in a slower manner. Changes that may suggest your child is struggling may include sluggishness, reduced energy levels, and a decrease in desire to engage in physical activity. If the external environment, diet, or routine has remained unchanged, seek help from a medical professional to screen for depression.

6.   Feeling Guilty or Worthless

Children with depression may express feelings of worthlessness or disproportionate guilt about ordinary situations. Pay attention if your child uses negative self-talk or seems overly remorseful for minor missteps, as this may suggest that is how their internal dialogue is running. In this case, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help greatly, replacing negative patterns of thinking through beneficial tools.

7.   Low Energy Levels

As depression often drains energy levels, your child may constantly seem tired, lack enthusiasm, or show less interest in being physically active. When these behaviors and feelings persist, and tests rule out any other cause for these symptoms, seeking guidance from a licensed pediatric psychiatrist is paramount.

8.   Changes in Appetite

Depression can also cause changes in appetite, either an increase or a decrease. If your child’s weight suddenly begins fluctuating and their appetite is reduced or enhanced, an underlying mental health condition, such as depression, may be to blame. Doctors will conduct tests to rule out any other health condition that may be causing weight change.

Treatment for Depression in Children

Treatment options for kids with depression are similar to those offered for adults. Typically, psychotherapy is preferred, and medication will only be offered as a last resort for more extreme cases. Family therapy is a popular option, as it keeps parental involvement at the forefront of their child’s recovery. The age of the child with depression will also impact the treatment options offered, as a teenager might require more privacy in therapy than a younger child.

Depression in children is a complex condition, but acknowledging the symptoms is the first step toward seeking help. Available resources, such as a depression screening for children and a depression scale for children, can assist in identifying these symptoms. Even children’s books about depression can offer support in a kid-friendly way, helping them find the language to describe their feelings. Resources such as these teach children that they are not alone and nothing is “wrong” with them and equip them with tools to manage complex feelings.

Parents can struggle with their child’s diagnosis of depression, as it may bring feelings of shame and inadequacy. Attending family therapy will offer parents sufficient methods to aid their child’s recovery, alongside essential information about maintaining stability in the home.

Support your child by seeking professional help while offering them your love and support. You’ll be leading them through difficult moments in life and guiding them to return to a place of happiness.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults.