You no longer recognize your child, and it’s terrifying. More than anything, parents want their children to be happy and whole, we want them to embrace childhood as long as possible. Parents describe the instant love for their child as a powerful force they have never experienced, and that love drives parents to cherish their child, and so when something ails them, it can be devastating.
As children grow, as does the propensity for any number of things both good and bad. We are diligent about well child visits, nutrition, and education. But are we paying attention to their mental health? Depression among children, while not understood, is on the rise. Coupled with that, suicide among children has steadily risen over the last few years. We addressed some possibilities for this here, this blog is to help parents recognize possible depression in their child.
What are the symptoms of depression in children and when is it time to seek help? First, these numbers are sobering, and I hope grabs your attention as a parent.
Both depression and anxiety tend to be higher in older children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17. An estimated 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 13.3% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17. An estimated 31.9% of adolescents have had an anxiety disorder.
Before we begin, let’s define “major depressive disorder” or a “major depressive disorder. This is, perhaps, the most simple definition:
“A mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.” 
This oversimplified definition can be tricky when evaluating children and major depression. As adults, impairment to our daily lives is easy to recognize. It is not as easily recognizable in children since hormones and the science of brain growth can often exhibit in a depressed mood, or a loss of interest in activities until hormones are balanced. Children often are excited about baseball, until he finds out about football. Hormones will present as moodiness, anger, and even hostility. So, the evaluation of children is tricky, but o so important.
Watch for unexplained, fundamental changes in your child, especially if undesirable characteristics present themselves. Here are what some experts agree parents can watch, and make decisions accordingly. Remember not all behavior issues are discipline issues, this is usually the first defense. What if we paid attention to the child first? Why are they acting the way they are?
- Sudden but persistent behavior issues. This is especially true of angry outbursts. Remember that anger is fear’s bodyguard. Your child is acting out of confusion about what is happening to them, and frustrated they can’t articulate it. It is dark for them, and your observation and proactive approach could lessen your child’s suffering.
- Isolation. As children get into teenaged years, it is normal for them to isolate from you like it’s their job! However, if you notice your child isolating more than normal, it may be time for a conversation. It is likely that they don’t have the vernacular to tell you they are feeling depressed, but careful and close attention along with educated questions, can help you ascertain the need for professional help.
- Disordered Eating. The most important thing to note here is a fundamental change in eating habits one way or the other. Some children (like adults) find food comforting, others find it revolting in periods of depressed mood. Weight is a good indicator here since it is empirical data and will help you address it with your child in a non judgmental way. Also, keep in mind that some medications to treat depression can cause weight gain. Appetite is a great indicator of mental status.
- Physical Issues (new) Our bodies are excellent at giving us warning signs and symptoms when all is not well. GI issues are probably the most common in children, but watch for other complaints, keep a journal, thereby increasing your ability to trend physical manifestations of depression. Migraines are another common issue with depression, but can also be caused by hormones. Hormonal imbalance itself is another causation of depression in children. Careful consideration should be paid to what is a normal imbalance versus a chemical imbalance that causes depression.
These are just a few of the symptoms related to depression in children. The most important thing you can do for your child is to trust your instincts when you feel something is consistently wrong. Do not hesitate to get help.
The worst thing that can happen is your child is just acting like a child. Conversely, you could find that your child needs help. Early intervention is important.
We will be back with part 3, Treating Children With Depression.
Also there are several episodes on our podcast discussing children trauma and treatment.