Depression is a serious medical condition that is usually associated with adults. You might think that as a parent, children can’t really get depressed. After all, they don’t really have any responsibilities or distressing life changes that will make them feel this way. However, if you think that you are seeing the early signs of depression in your children, then it’s important that you take this seriously and understand the steps to take to help them get through this mental health problem.
Although depressive symptoms may vary across children, it may be helpful to keep an eye out on the following: Lack of interest in hobbies/activities, persistent exhaustion, constant oversleeping, self-harm, and irritability. Read on to learn more about how you can support your child who is experiencing these.
At their young age, hobbies are an important part of children’s lives. Engaging in different hobbies such as painting, writing, playing an instrument, and the like, helps children feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.
With this in mind, an early warning sign of a depressed child is if they suddenly begin to lose interest in their hobbies as well as other activities. For example, if your child once loved to play an instrument but has gradually stopped over the months and years, then this could be a cause for concern.
If your child shows a persistent lack of interest in doing things that they once derived pleasure and happiness from, make sure to keep an eye out. Provide them with genuine emotional support by spending time with them, understanding how they feel, and frequently communicating with them.
Although most people think that depression only has to do with extreme sadness, non-motivation, and general feelings of hopelessness, there are some cases where it is displayed as increased irritability. Of course, everyone gets irritated, but depressed children may exhibit this sign in more ways than you can think of.
For example, no matter what your child does, they just can’t seem to avoid feeling irritated or angered. They don’t even need to experience triggering events — their irritability might stem from their mental health condition. When left undiagnosed, their family and friends may misunderstand them or may even unknowingly become dismissive.
Aside from getting your child professional help through their pediatrician, it’s crucial that you offer them reliable emotional support. When they become irritated, don’t worsen the situation by responding with anger or lack of understanding. Instead, give them time and allow them to take initiative when it comes to opening up to you.
All of these signs are interconnected. A depressed child, for example, may not feel the value of their hobbies or may become irritable because of chronic exhaustion. When they don’t feel physically and mentally energized, they may resort to constant oversleeping or even under-sleeping. Nothing would seem to motivate them to get up from bed to do basic activities.
As mentioned before, bringing your child to a professional is the only way to truly help them. On your own time, you can provide support by reading up on depression, getting all the available mental health resources, or getting in touch with a local mental health service.
Throughout all of these, always make sure that you show understanding to your child. Try to encourage them to join you in low-impact exercises that don’t take too much effort. Even engaging in light physical activities may trigger the brain to release mood-regulating hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
Self-harm can take the form of many things, such as deliberate cutting of arms and legs, failure to follow basic hygiene, doing poorly in school, or other signs of self-inflicted pain.
For many parents, their first instinct when their child shows self-harm is to be angry at them. They might tell the child that there isn’t anything to be sad or angry about. However, you’ll want to steer clear of this reaction. Instead, understand why they’re engaging in these types of destructive behavior. Children often knowingly hurt themselves as a coping mechanism.
In this case, don’t try to pry or force them to admit that they’ve been self-harming, especially when you already know. Instead, show kindness as it’s a subject that’s extremely difficult to discuss. When it feels right to talk to them, ask them what you can do to help. Ask what may be tempting them to do so or if there’s any possible alternative.
As said before, the signs of depression in children vary from child to child, but this doesn’t mean that you’re helpless in supporting your child through it. There are some depressive symptoms across children that manifest themselves in disinterest in activities, constant irritability, self-harm, or chronic fatigue.
If you think your child is exhibiting these, help them by giving unconditional emotional support. Since there’s only so much that you can do as a parent, the best course of action is to ultimately allow a professional to help your child and ensure that you’re making all available mental health resources accessible for them.