Depression in children under the age of 12 differs from the everyday emotional ups and downs that most children have.
In fact depression in children can sometimes be difficult to diagnosis because it is so hard to evaluate.
The determination as to whether a child is depressed is partially associated with how persistent their sadness is and if the sadness interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork, or family life. If these things develop, they may be a stronger likelihood that the child is depressed. Fortunately, depressive illness in children is treatable.
Diagnosing Childhood Depression
The reason that diagnosing depression in children is difficult is because the symptoms of depression vary and because it is often looked at as normal emotional ups and downs during childhood development. Additionally, other behaviors and psychiatric problems such as anger, anxiety and attentions disorders can mask the signs of depression.
Many children exhibit depression as a continuous low mood similar to teens and adults who are depressed. The primary symptoms of depression typically involve sadness, feelings of hopelessness and mood changes. Other common signs of depressive illness in children include the following:
- Heightened irritability or anger
- Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Social withdrawal and/or social anxiety
- Fear of abandonment and sensitivity to rejection
- Changes in appetite (increased or decreased)
- Changes in sleep patterns (increased or decreased)
- Increased crying
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Excessive fatigue and lack of energy
- Physical complaints that don’t respond to medical treatment
- Lack of interest in things that the child used to like, such as school, extracurricular activities, and hobbies
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Not all children suffering from have all of the above symptoms. In reality, most children will have different symptoms over a period of time. Some children with depression continue to function well in school, but most experience a significant reduction in social activities. If the symptoms of depression in a child have lasted for over two weeks, treatment should be sought immediately.
What Causes Depression in Children?
Just as in adults, depression in children is usually the result of a combination of factors that can be hard to pinpoint. These factors usually involve medical causes, physical health, life events, family history, environment, genetic vulnerability and biochemical disturbance. Unfortunately, depression does not resolve itself without appropriate treatment.
Children with a family history of depression are not only at a higher risk of experiencing depression, they tend to have their first episode of depression earlier than children whose parents do not have depression. Children from families with other types of significant dysfunction, such as alcohol and drug abuse, are also at a greater risk of depressive illness.
How Is Depression in Children Treated?
Although treatment options for children suffering from depression are similar to those for adults, there are some marked differences. Treatment for depression typically includes psychotherapy and/or and medication.
Where I work as a therapist in San Jose, California, there are very few psychiatrists that prescribe psychiatric mediation, such as antidepressants to children under the age of 12. Some are equally reluctant to treat teenagers with depression. This may be due to the fact that antidepressants have specific warnings about suicidal thinking in children and teens. Still, research gas indicated that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most effective at treating depression. Just as with adults, the role of psychotherapy plays an important part of the treatment process for children with depression.