This page is meant to help you determine if your child might be suffering from depression.
Prior to the 1970s, depression was typically viewed as an adult disorder because children were seen as too immature to have this disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illnesses did not begin to represent children until the 1980's. ( Charles and Fazeli 2017)
By the 1990's we began to first recognize and fully accept that depression existed in children under 10.
Many of us who work with depression know that our clients report being depressed as long as they can remember. Yet there is resistance to believing young children experience it. Over the last 20 years we have learned not only preschool depression exists, but also, what it looks like, how we can treat it, how it changes preschoolers brains, it's course, and what it is associated with.
Childhood Depression Symptoms may look much like symptoms of adult depression or they may look very different. Children have less ability to verbalize their feelings and are more likely to give us clues about their inner state through their behavior.
Unfortunately, the behavioral expression of childhood depression can result in adults viewing depressed children as having behavioral problems. Instead of being treated for mental illness, depressed children are often scolded, shamed and punished.
Imagine feeling depressed, lonely, generally bad about yourself and the world. It wouldn’t help you feel better to be told you are worthless, lazy, and hear the people you love constantly complain about you! This is, unfortunately so often the case for children who are depressed ( and actually adults too).
Early identification and treatment of depression results in children living happier, more productive and successful lives. Yet most adults that encounter children do not understand what signs of depression in children look like.
Facts About Child Depression
Childhood Depression Symptoms
They are unpleasant to be around
One of the common childhood depression symptoms is an irritable mood. Think, for a moment, about how you behave when irritable. You may snap at your coworkers, friends or spouse. You are likely to lose your temper and show very little patience. Children who are irritable may be rude, disrespectful, and may refuse to do what you ask. They are less likely to follow the rules at school or at home and frequently talk back to parents and teachers.
They complain of boredom
A child who is bored may bother you, follow you around the house and demand that you entertain them.
They no longer like to do things they used to think were fun
A child experiencing depression will often stop enjoying the activities they were the most interested in.
They may display changes in eating patterns or appetite
These children may seem picky and whiny or complain about their food. Children I see often complain about how the food is “bad” or doesn’t taste right.
They may not want to get up or go to bed
Children may sleep more of less than normal. Behaviorally, this can translate into refusal to go to school or to go to bed.
They may have low energy
Depressed children may complain of feeling tired and lack the energy to complete the tasks they need to do at home and school. This can often cause children to behave in a way that can be misinterpreted as lazy. If parents or teachers describe a child as lazy I am immediately suspicious that the child is depressed. Adults usually respond to this behavior by name calling “get your lazy self-up!” or punishing.
They have thoughts of worthlessness or guilty feelings
Children who are depressed will often make negative self-statements such as “I can't do this” or "I’m not good at anything". Busy parents often miss these statements or may be irritated by them. Younger children won’t attempt to complete tasks or activities because of fear that they are not good enough to do so. Kids manifesting these signs of depression in children may also blame themselves for things that they have nothing to do with.
They can’t concentrate
Kids with this childhood symptoms of depression may get labeled as ADHD! Then they are given stimulants which can have a disastrous effect if the child has bipolar disorder.
Other childhood depression symptoms include unpleasant behaviors such as tantrums, inability to handle frustration, complaining or crying. At school depressed children may be hostile or aggressive, display a drop-in school performance, or may frequently go to the school nurse.
If you think your child is exhibiting these symptoms, and you have a family history of depression, then it is very likely that your child is depressed. In this case, you should get treatment.
In 1998 Joan Luby got the first grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study preschool depression. Very young children were among the last group to be studied for depression and it is still poorly recognized in this population.
The symptom most specific preschool childhood depression symptom is anhedonia. This is defined as the inability to find pleasure or joy in previously enjoyed activities. In preschoolers this looks like NOT WANTING TO PLAY WITH THEIR TOYS or to do things that used to be fun.
Preschoolers who are depressed might cry and whine often and they also may be very irritable and angry.
Most preschool children with depression do not get accurately diagnosed because childhood depression symptoms in this group are not accurately captured by the criteria in our manuals.
PROGRAMS THAT SUPPORT EARLY INTERVENTION HELP
Early intervention is key
PRESCHOOL DEPRESSION IS SERIOUS
Preschoolers do not grow out of depression.
If your preschooler is has childhood depression symptoms, you should get your child therapy
Learn about social support to prevent depression in children
Learn about stress in childhood