Signs of depression in children 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!
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.
Below are some common signs of depression in children and the behaviors that accompany them.
They are unpleasant to be around
One of the common signs of depression in children 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 affect if the child has bipolar disorder.
Other 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.