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Can depression also occur in children? Unfortunately, it can. We see that depression seems to set on earlier and earlier. Children in primary school are already overworked sometimes or experience depression symptoms. Depression seems to influence children a lot, as well as adults. There are even children who are born with types of depression, which makes them feel depressed at an early age.

Just as in adults, it is useful to recognize a depression in children early on. Depression in children is often difficult to detect, because somber moods or mood swings are relatively common at some ages. The earlier a depression in children is recognized, the better. Depression in children will namely affect the body of the child more quickly than it does in adults. Children are more vulnerable to physical issues and are therefore more likely to experience physical consequences of depression.

Depression in children: the symptoms of depression in children?

Depression in children is characterized by many depression symptoms, which are the same in both adults and children.

  • Being sad all the time
  • Not wanting to do anything fun or to play
  • Not having an appetite or instead suddenly eating really much
  • Preferring to lie in bed all day
  • Experiencing a lot of stress
  • Often being tired or having a lack of energy
  • Feeling worthless and not believing in themselves
  • Thinking that everything is their fault
  • Not being able to pay attention or having a lot of difficulties with homework
  • Stomach complaints
  • Weight changes

These depression symptoms occur in adults as well as in depression in children.

Depression in children: how does it differ from a depression in adults?

As you could read in the previous paragraph, there are many depression symptoms which they have in common. Yet, we do notice that depression in children shows itself differently in some aspects than depression in adults does.

Aggression or isolation?

The first large difference is that depression in children is not only characterized by a somber or sad mood. This will to some extent occur more commonly in girls than in boys. It namely is so that an important characteristic of depression in children also includes aggressive behavior. This is not the case in adults. Aggressive behavior is most common among boys and can be a sign of depression in children. Your child then namely does not know how to deal with certain feelings or situations and will therefore behave aggressively.

This is most common in boys. Girls are more likely to choose for internalized behavior. This means that they will turn inwards, stop speaking a lot, and mainly keeping ‘problems’ to themselves.

Somatic complaints?

Unfortunately, depression in children is also more often characterized by somatic complaints. This means that they will experience physical consequences more quickly than adults do. The depression can cause the following symptoms, among others:

  • Stomach complaints
  • Bowel complaints
  • Itches
  • Headaches

Because children are more vulnerable than adults are, a children’s depression is much more likely to influence the body. Mainly stomach complaints and bowel complaints are common in children. Depression is namely linked to stress, which can cause these complaints.

Playing with a depressed child?

Playing is a way for children to express themselves. They learn new things through it, learn to deal with certain feelings, and learn to structure their surroundings. If a child is depressed, she does not really know how to deal with certain feelings and how to handle this feeling. Because of the internal struggle, many children with depression will no longer play. They shut the world out and no longer want to explore. This can also sometimes have to do with the feeling that they are no longer safe within themselves and that they no longer can explore their surroundings. Some children namely feel guilty or have low self-esteem, meaning they will often stop playing.

Stopping to play is in many cases the first indication of depression in children. Of course, if your child has already reached puberty, she will automatically not play anymore, or not play as often anymore. This is only a valid point at certain ages. You can thus recognize many characteristics about children in the way they play, including depressed symptoms.

Depression in children: how do you diagnose a depression?

Depression in children is difficult to diagnose because the behavior of children can sometimes change very quickly. For example, in puberty, it is normal that they sit in their room more often or that they are unhappy sometimes. But where is the line between what is normal at their age and what can be seen as a disorder?

We can consider eventual depressed complaints when the behavior which your child or adolescent portrays does not correspond to the personality of your child. If your child suddenly starts acting differently, then it may be so that there is a depression at play. A depression can namely gain a large influence in a short period of time. Throughout life, children can change very much, but if you notice that the behavior is not in accordance with how you know your child, there may be a case of depression.

The puberty or other transitional phases can cause a change in the behavior of your child, but you will notice that these generally occur more slowly, and that you will still be able to recognize your son or daughter in this new person they have become. In case of children’s depression the change can sometimes be so drastic that you start to question the behavior of your child.

Depression in children: what can I do as a parent?

This is probably the most commonly asked question in depression in children. As a parent you of course want that which is best for your child and you want to be able to support your child during difficult periods in their lives. In depression it is often difficult to know what helps and what does not. Depression makes children, just like many adults, very sensitive to certain approaches. Therefore, it is not easy to choose the right approach in helping your child in depression.

To help to support your child in depression, we here list some common reactions which parents have and whether or not such reactions are good approaches. What you should definitely not forget in this case is that these tips are given from a general point of view. We hereby try to guide you in the understanding of depression in children, but you remain the expert on your own child.

Listening always helps?

Listening to your child does indeed help in many cases. Openness in communication is a useful way to continue to communicate with your child. This way it can be so that your child feels supported and this might help their self-image to grow. While open communication is a good tactic, you must pay attention to the way in which you use this technique.

Many parents are namely very involved with their children and they do not want their children to be sad or to hurt. This might make it so that, when you listen to your child, you become angry with how unfair that which is happening to your child is, or you might start to cry because you empathize with your child. This can have a negative effect. While children are children, they have some sort of sense of responsibility toward their parents and they do not want to see their mommy or daddy become mad or sad. If your child then is depressed, it might be so that they think that it is their fault when you become angry or sad. They then will tell you less, because they do not want to upset you.

Punishing for inappropriate behavior is a good idea?

As mentioned earlier, a depression in children can show itself through aggressive behavior. Generally, parents then have the idea of punishing their child, to show that this aggressive behavior is not condoned. You must indeed interfere if you child acts in a way which is not appropriate. What has been discovered, however, is that punishing does not work for depression in children. You namely punish the behavior, but the cause of the behavior is still present. You really just take away the way in which your child expresses themselves, but the depression remains within them.

But I cannot bring grandma back, what am I supposed to do then?

Some causes of depression cannot be changed. You cannot bring someone back and you cannot turn back time. Some people think that this means that there is nothing that can be done about the depression. Because if you cannot treat the cause, then what else is left to do?

Treatment generally has two points of focus: changing the situation and accepting the situation. Changing the situation means handling the cause. In some cases, however, there is nothing to be done about the cause. In that case, a treatment for depression in children often looks at the other point of focus: the acceptance. Despite many people believing that time alone heals anything, there are certain problems which need an extra push or extra help in processing. An example of this could be a chronic disease which drastically shortens the length of your life. It is true that there is nothing that you can change about the disease, but a healthcare professional is able to guide the person, so that they can get through the time which they have left in a happy way.

This also goes for depression in children. If you cannot treat the cause, you can eventually guide the child in accepting the cause. For children it is often difficult to place major events, which can lead to depression in children. Help can work with this by helping the child accept the situation.

Depression in children: treating depression?

The first thing to be done in treating children’s depression is to alert the parents. The parents are namely important supporting figures for the child and can help the child with treatment and acceptance in difficult situations. However, sometimes the depression in children can have progressed so much that the parents can no longer work on the depression. In that case, help can be found in other places.

There are psychologists and psychiatrists who can help children in the treatment of depression in children. Except for these traditional manners of treating depression, there nowadays also are new ways. These ways have grown from the constant demand for help and growth in technology.

Doctors and psychologists developed an online self-help program, inspired by therapeutic techniques, to help children in the treatment of depression in children. Generally, children from 13 years or older or those with a large vocabulary can follow the program by themselves. It can be so that they need some explanation from mommy or daddy if the vocabulary is too difficult. Furthermore, the program offers an effective way of helping your child grow from home and to find their way back to happiness.

Depression in children: the depression test?

At the hand of our free depression test you can check which depression symptoms apply to your child or if ‘suffering’ appears in your child. At the hand of this test you can also learn more about appropriate help to treat depression in children. Click here to take the free depression test.

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