How does depression present itself in children?

Depression in children can be hard to spot sometimes, children share some signs and symptoms of depression with adults but there are some signs that are present only in children. This difference is sometimes caused by children's inability to express themselves or because they may use other ways to communicate their feelings.

Signs of depression in children and adults
These are similar to depression in adults, they include feelings of helplessness and sadness, losing pleasure or interest in things, bad mood, low self esteem, tearfulness and social withdrawal. Children can still enjoy somethings more than adults even when depressed, but there may be a noticeable change or loss of interest in hobbies or things that used to mean a lot for the child.

Children are not usually aware that they have depression, so it is important that parents observe any sudden changes in habits and mood or sadness and "low mood" for long periods.

Common signs of depression in childhood

Depression does not necessarily present itself as social withdrawal and bad mood only, it can also be reflected as over-activity, anxiety and antisocial behaviour (more in boys). Bad performance at school can be a result of depression. Another sign is insomnia or difficulty sleeping or waking up earlier than normal, a depressed child may sleep too much or too little.

Depression and anxiety can affect the child appetite making him/her eating more or less than usual. Feelings of boredom, guilt and despair are common in depression in children. Depressed children may complaint about being bored or even run from  home. Yet another sign is the rapid changes in mood (mood swings). Any thoughts or attempts of self harm (cutting) or suicide must be heeded and parents must seek medical advice.

What causes depression in children?

Depression can be hard to spotCredit: D Sharon Pruitt, CC-BY, via FlickrThere are some identified risk factors that contribute to depression in children, these include: family conflicts or disharmony, neglect, stress, parental history of depression, physical illness, low social or economic statuses. Some factors might be hidden and need communication (might be discovered by the psychiatrist) like child abuse or bullying at school.

As a parent, try to always communicate with your children and encourage them to talk and express their feelings, talking to their friends can also help.

Management of depression in children
Mild depression may only need psychological interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy. Other measure may include changing the social factors (bullying at school, removing sharp objects at home, etc). At some stage, medications can be offered and it should be associated with psychological interventions. If you think you need help ask your GP or a psychiatrist for help.