It’s normal for children to feel down, be cranky or think negatively, this is just part of growing up. But children who are ‘down’ often and for long periods are at risk of developing depression. Depression in children is a serious illness, which can affect children’s physical and mental health.
It can be hard to tell the difference between sadness and depression in children aged three to eight years. Children with depression may have low energy and be difficult to motivate, lose interest easily in an activity they usually enjoy, have difficulty listening and concentrating on tasks and make negative comments about themselves, withdraw from social situations and may not want to spend time with friends.
They look for what’s wrong rather than see the positives in situations, they may be difficult to please are irritable, agitated, easily annoyed or upset. They seem sad and cry easily and are difficult to soothe. They either have no interest in food or overeat and have problems going to sleep or staying asleep, waking early, or sleeping a lot.
No one thing causes depression in children. Depression can present for a variety and combination of reasons, including life events, family history, genetic vulnerabilities, physical ailments and biochemical disturbances. Children who have suffered trauma, experienced loss or have behavioural, learning or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression.
If you think your child is depressed, the first step is to talk about what’s going on and how they’re feeling. If they reply with an “I don’t know” suggest some feeling words and see if any hit the mark with them. Let your child know that it’s okay to ask for help and that you’re ready to listen to whatever they want to say.
If they’re distressed about a particular situation, you can help them to solve the problem or ﬁnd ways to improve the situation. You could also try doing something fun, getting outside and doing some exercise, or doing something special together.
If the symptoms of depression in your child last for at least two weeks, it’s time to seek professional help.