More than just Blues: Childhood Depression

Childhood Depression

Are you worried that your child may be depressed? Most kids have days when they feel sad, lonely, or experience everyday blues. But, if your child seems persistently sad or hopeless and it is affecting their relationships or daily functioning they might be suffering from childhood depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that can cause someone to feel persistently sad, irritable or hopeless. It may affect one’s sleep patterns, daily activities, appetite or relationships with others. In severe cases, depression may lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm, hence it is important to get symptoms of depression evaluated by a healthcare provider. 

What can cause Childhood Depression?

The exact causes of childhood depression are largely unknown. It could be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, environmental factors, genetic vulnerability, and biochemical disturbances.

  • Brain chemistry
    Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters might play a role in how the brain works, which can affect moods and emotions and increase the likelihood of experiencing depression. Reduced dopamine, serotonin and nor epinephrine levels can contribute to depression in some people.
  • Environmental factors
    Stressful, chaotic, or unstable family relationships and home environment can also make children more prone to experiencing depression. Bullying or abuse may also be a contributing factor.
  • Family history
    Children with family members who have mood disorders such as depression are at a greater risk for being similarly affected or experiencing symptoms of depressive disorders.
  • Stress/trauma
    Sudden changes in life or traumatic events might also contribute to feelings of depression.

What does childhood depression look like?

Signs of depression in children aged 12 and younger:

  • Frequent sadness, tear fullness or crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Decreased interest in activities or hobbies enjoyed previously
  • Difficulty maintaining social relationships
  • Increased irritability and tantrums
  • Major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Obsessive fears or worries
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal ideations or self-harming behaviour
  • Trouble concentrating or paying attention

Signs of depression in adolescents age 13-18 may include all of the aforementioned signs and also:

  • Increased risk-taking behaviours
  • Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness 
  • Substance use
  • Short temper
  • Suicidal ideations or self-harming behaviour
  • Trouble making decisions 

How are depression and anxiety in children treated?

The treatment for childhood depression might include psychotherapy (counselling), medication or a combination of the two depending on the severity of the symptoms and the age of the child. 

Treatment options for children with depression are like those for adults. Your child’s healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Mental-health Counselling
    Counselling might help children learn to think more positively and control negative behaviours. It gives children the tools to manage and cope with anxiety and depression in healthier ways.
  • Medications
    The most common antidepressant medication for children increases the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that can help increase feelings of happiness and well-being.

It is recommended to be extra cautious when administering antidepressants to children. Some children might not show any improvement with the medications, or may even end up feeling more depressed. 

What can I do at home?

The following are some of the steps you can take to encourage healthy coping skills and support your child’s mental health:

  • Talk about how caring for the body also helps the mind. Explain how eating nutritious food and exercise is good for their mental health.
  • Make sure your child has a consistent sleep schedule. 
  • Help your child develop a rich social life 
  • Teach your child how to solve problems, manage their emotions in healthy ways, and develop strategies that will help them cope with failure and setbacks.
  • Talk about your mental health too and make staying healthy a priority in your family. 
  • Spend time with your child doing things you both can enjoy. Gradually encouraging positive emotions and moods can slowly help to overcome the depressive moods 
  • Try to stay patient and understanding. 

Recommended for you