Depression in your child is no laughing matter. Unlike a typical kid who likes running and bouncing around, a depressed child’s toys may bring little joy. But since we don’t normally associate depression with kids, and because kids can’t express the complicated “down” that they may be feeling, the task is up to parents to spot the signs. Children go through various developmental stages that affect their mood, thinking, relationships and sleep patterns, among other things, experts say. "Symptoms of depression can evolve over time, often making it difficult for parents to pick up on signs of the disorder," says Gary Griffieth, M.D., CEO of Capstone Pediatrics, which has locations throughout Middle Tennessee including in Franklin and Nolensville. In addition to losing interest in activities that once brought them enjoyment, such as playing with friends, their energy level may appear lower than normal, and they may act irritable, hostile or angry," he adds.
A Chemical Imbalance?
Depression in children often results from a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects how a child feels, thinks and behaves, and how they think about the world around them. "There's no question that depression distorts a child's thinking," says Griffieth. "While some research shows that chronic depression and stress can actually shrink the brain, we know that from a neurodevelopment standpoint, we can teach children's brains to think differently, causing the creation of new pathways between neuron neighborhoods," he adds. David Fassler, M.D., co-author of Help Me, I’m Sad: Recognizing, Treating and Preventing Childhood and Adolescent Depression, says one of the biggest tip-offs that something is wrong with a child is a parent’s own instincts: If Mom suspects depression, seeing the pediatrician is in order.
Make an attempt to talk to your child first — but know that they may not tell you something that they think would worry you. Depression in children can be challenging to diagnose, but your pediatrician can help determine whether or not your child has it and can help plug you into resources in the community such as counselors and therapists who can help. Most importantly, if your child exhibits symptoms lasting two weeks or longer, action needs to be taken. With your doctor, you can chart a course — depression CAN be treated.
IS YOUR CHILD DEPRESSED?
(symptoms lasting for two weeks)
• Weight changes
• Low confidence
• Declining grades
• Complaints of pain or injury when there is none