Clinical depression is an illness, a medical condition. It significantly affects the way someone feels, causing a persistent lowering of mood.
Depression is often accompanied by a range of other physical and psychological symptoms that can interfere with the way a person is able to function in their everyday life. The symptoms of depression generally react positively to treatment.
Depression can present in various ways and can range in severity for different people. Children and adolescents may not always show the same signs as adults, so it is important to be aware of changes in your child’s behaviour and mood.
As with adults, they may show:
They could also:
In some cases, children can also experience suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting themselves. It is important to take these claims seriously.
Many factors can contribute to the emergence of clinical depression. It can be different for every person.
Children can be quite responsive to their family environment and may begin to show signs of depression as a response to abuse, the loss of a parent, neglect, poverty or traumatic experiences. A genetic predisposition or family history may also put them at risk, as can medical or neuropsychiatric problems. The use of drugs and alcohol, particularly in adolescents, can also contribute.
Children and adolescents may struggle to find ways to communicate what they are going through, and may not always come to you directly. If you notice that your child does not seem themselves or has displayed some of the symptoms mentioned above, try to create a safe space for them to talk about their emotions. Set aside some time that is not rushed or interrupted with other commitments. Younger kids may find it easier to talk when they are doing activities like playing with toys, but may struggle to find words to talk about their feelings – you could try to suggest some feeling words to help them.
They may benefit from keeping a focus on normal activities and routine, and engaging in some physical activity or spending time with friends. If symptoms or behaviours persist without improvement, it may be best to seek professional help.
The best thing you can do for a loved one suffering from depression is to try to identify early signs, and if they come to you, listen and try to understand. You may feel confused, helpless, frustrated or distressed, maybe even worried that small actions will upset them more.
Your support is significant though – sometimes just trying to be there for them is enough. It might be best to avoid a tough-love approach, however, as being callous or impatient with your loved one or trying to challenge them can be hurtful and isolating. Some symptoms in children may also seem as though they are simply whining or irritated – it is important to identify signs early on and try not to punish this behaviour.
Treating depression as something they can simply “get over” invalidates their experience and minimises their pain. You can avoid this misunderstanding by educating yourself about depression. Do some research and learn about the symptoms, course, and outcomes. Equipping yourself with some knowledge can prepare you for ebbs and flows in symptoms.
It is important not to let your support role become your whole life. Try to incorporate it into your life, and remember to care for yourself. Most individuals supporting another with a mental health condition find it helpful to create their own support network. Talk to your loved one and identify people who may be able to help if needed. You may even find online support communities and forums helpful.
Depression is being colorblind and constantly told how colorful the world is. – Atticus