It’s normal for your child to feel sad or irritated from time to time, according to D’Arcy Lyness, Ph.D. of Kids Health, a source of physician-reviewed information and advice on children’s health and parenting issues. However, they might have depression when negative feelings and thoughts linger for extended periods or impair your little one’s ability to function.
Depression is a type of mood disorder and can make your child feel worthless. Childhood depression differs from the normal “blues” and everyday emotions that they experience, explained WebMD, a medical news website. When your child’s depression is severe, it makes them think about suicide or self-harm. Depression is a serious illness and fortunately, it can be treated.
Statistics On Depression and Other Mental Health Issues
Reem M. Ghandour and colleagues found that approximately 1.9 million or 3.2% of US children and adolescents aged 3-17 years had current depression in 2016, as documented in their 2019 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal portal, via health institute the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Analyzing data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), Ghandour and colleagues also found that 4.5 million or 7.4% of them had a current behavioral/conduct problem.
Among children and adolescents with current depression, 9.7% were rated by parents/caregivers as being severely affected by their condition and about 45% were rated as being mildly or moderately affected respectively. Moreover, having another disorder is most common in about 73.8% of children with depression who also had anxiety and 47.2% had behavior problems. For children with anxiety, 37.9% had behavior problems and 20.3% had depression. Of children with behavior problems, 36.6% had anxiety and 20.3% had depression.
78.1% of children with depression received treatment, while 59.3% of children with anxiety and 53.5% of those with behavior disorders also received treatment. Ghandour and colleagues concluded that depression, anxiety, and behavioral/conduct problems are prevalent among US children and adolescents. Treatment gaps were evident for children with anxiety and behavioral/conduct problems.
In a 2018 study conducted by Rebecca H. Bitsko Ph.D. and colleagues, lifetime diagnosis of anxiety or depression among 6- to 17-year-old children rose from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011 to 2012, as cited by the CDC. Published in the Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed medical journal portal, current anxiety or depression grew from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.3% in 2011 to 2012, per the analysis of the National Survey of Children’s Health data from 2003, 2007, and 2011-2012.
Current anxiety increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011-2012. On the other hand, current depression rose slightly from 2007’s 4.7% to 4.9% in 2011-2012. The study showed that over one in 20 US children had current anxiety or depression in 2011-2012, which were associated with “significant comorbidity and impact on children and families.”
How Will I Know If My Child Is Depressed?
Depression in children can be caused by certain factors related to your child’s family history, environment, biochemical disturbance, life events, and physical health. Hence, it can be hard for you to recognize the signs of depression. Irritability or an angry mood may seem like your child is disrespecting you. Low energy and lack of interest may signify that your child is not trying hard enough. However, you and your child may not even realize that these can be signs of depression.
Some signs you need to watch out for include social withdrawal, fatigue and low energy, physical complaints, continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating. Bear in mind that symptoms vary and not all children will exhibit all the above-mentioned signs. WebMD said most kids will show “different symptoms at different times and in different settings.” Since depression can manifest in different ways, it is recommended to consult a mental health professional if your child’s bad moods or feelings or sadness seem to linger for a few weeks.
What Can I Do to Help My Child Cope With Depression?
1. Encourage Physical Activity
A lack of exercise can affect your child’s mental health later in life, according to a study by Aaron Kandola, MSc and colleagues published in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, mentioned Dr. Yalda Safai of news platform ABC News. They found that teens who were sedentary between 12- to 16-years-old were more likely to develop depressive symptoms at age 18 and beyond.
Kandola and colleagues followed 4.257 adolescents for six years starting at age 12 to find a correlation between physical activity, sedentary behavior, and depressive symptoms. Participants wore accelerometers on their hips for seven days at a time to track the amount and intensity of their physical activity.
For unknown reasons, the researchers found that sedentary behavior increased and light activity decreased throughout adolescence, leading to depressive symptoms at 18-years-old and above. One additional hour of sedentary each day raised depressive scores by 10% by 18 years of age.
“Outdoor exercise and exposure to nature is especially noted to increase overall feeling of well-being," explained Dr. Alexander Sanchez, a psychiatrist practicing in New York City, who was not involved with the study.
2. Talk About Depression and Moods
Your child might deny or hide how they feel. They might not even realize that they are depressed. If your child is a teenager, they might push you away because they don’t need your help, Nevertheless, try to reach out to them.
Let them know what specific depressive symptoms you have noticed and state why these symptoms worry you, suggested HelpGuide, a guide to mental health and wellness. Show them your love, listen to them, and offer your support if they share their feelings with you. Don’t lecture or criticize them, or worse, invalidate their emotions.
3. Enjoy Quality Time Together
Spend quality time with your child by doing things you both enjoy. It can be cooking, making crafts, watching a funny movie, and more. These activities can encourage positive emotions and moods, which help your child overcome the depressed moods that are part of depression.
4. Seek Professional Help
A child or adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist can evaluate your child’s mental health and recommend treatment. Depression can be treated with talk therapy, medication, or both. Parent counseling is often a part of the treatment, focusing on how parents can best support and respond to a child going through depression.
Don’t wait until your child’s depression becomes severe. If they are having negative feelings or thoughts for a few weeks, that one red flag you should note. Avoid invalidating their emotions or make them feel bad for how they feel. Consult a psychologist to see which treatment works for your child.