Depression among children is a serious problem. Many children suffer from undiagnosed depression. With adults, depression symptoms tend to be straightforward and easily detected. Some children may have such obvious symptoms as constant sadness, lack of energy, lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities, inability to concentrate (not related to ADHD), being either unable to sleep, or sleeping too much, lack of appetite or overeating. Other children’s symptoms may be very different.

A child suffering from depression can be defiant, angry, aggressive, anxious, or withdrawn. She may have nightmares, be afraid to be away from her parents or withdraw from them, not want to go to school, and her grades may drop. She may complain that no one likes her, or that she doesn’t have any friends. A child who begins giving away her possessions may be suicidal. Any time a child talks about dying or killing herself, take her seriously.

If a child is having these symptoms, it is vital that her doctor evaluate her. There are physical problems that can cause depression. After a thorough medical evaluation, if she does not have any physical problems, talking to her teacher(s) can be helpful. Getting feedback from school about how she is behaving in class, and how she gets along with her peers can give additional perspective on her symptoms.

Watch how she plays, and what she draws. Children reveal a great deal in their creative behaviors. Get an assessment from a therapist who specializes in treating children. She might need medication to help her. Depression is not a disorder that someone can “snap out of”. Respect how she feels. Even if her reason for feeling bad seems trivial to you, it’s gigantic to her.

As a parent, it’s important not to panic or blame oneself if a child is depressed. Make sure to give her attention in loving ways, spend special time with her, and reassure her that she won’t always feel this way, that things will get better. Hope is one of the most powerful tools you can give her.

Nancy Riggins-Hume
Licensed Clinical Social Worker