Depression is difficult for anyone, but perhaps even more so for children who lack the ability to seek solutions for themselves. As a parent, it is your difficult but crucial responsibility to help see them through.
Everybody’s experience with depression is unique to them. There are many factors that can cause clinical depression in kids and teenagers. Some obvious outside factors include losses, family stress, and difficulties with peers and school officials. There are also less obvious factors, such as a family history of mental illness and other medical concerns, that can cause or mimic depression.
Professional guidance is a critical first and ongoing step in helping your child. School counselors and pediatricians are often the first sources of assessments and referrals. They and other mental health professionals can team up to make the proper diagnosis for your child and recommend treatments such as therapy and, when necessary, medications based on how severe the symptoms are.
In addition to following professional advice, there are additional measures you can take to help your child deal with depression and thoughts of suicide.
Knowing the Signs
It’s crucial to learn the signs of depression in kids, which can differ from adults. If your child experiences any of the following for a period of two weeks or more, it is essential to speak to a pediatrician or other healthcare provider to determine if depression is a factor. Some common signs of depression in children are:
- low mood and low interest in activities once enjoyed
- changes in appetite
- sleeping too much or too little
- sudden difficulty focusing and concentrating
It is crucial to seek immediate help if the child has frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Kids, especially younger ones, often express depression or anxiety through physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches that prevent them from attending school or events and socializing. Sometimes children and teens appear fine around their friends or happy at family gatherings but can still be struggling with depression at other times of the day. Kids don’t have to look or feel depressed all of the time to meet the criteria for clinical depression.
Kids’ depression can also appear as irritability, so if your child has frequent tantrums or is excessively cranky and argumentative, combined with some of the other signs, that could also be depression.
Depression in kids is often underdiagnosed and undertreated, so it’s essential to seek professional help even if you’re unsure. There are several things parents can do to help alleviate their kids’ depressive symptoms.
Learn More about Their Life at School
A common cause of stress and depression involves academic and social pressures kids may face in school. Children and teens often struggle to cope with the academic and social demands of school, which can take a significant toll on their mental health. Anxiety and depression affect up to one in six kids in school settings, so it is essential to understand why a child is struggling and work towards helpful solutions.
It’s important to know about your children’s life at school. Do they have friends? Are they sociable and talkative, or quiet and withdrawn? Make an effort to stay involved with the school and ask the teachers and guidance staff about any changes in your child’s behavior.
Children and teens who isolate themselves or are rejected by other kids have higher rates of depression and thoughts of suicide. Kids having a hard time socially at school may internalize those struggles.
It is also critical to find out if they are having problems with other students. Bullying and being excluded from activities often produce feelings of stress and depression in victims. The more you learn about your children’s life at school, the better prepared you will be to help them through this difficult time.
Look for Social Outlets
Of course, you can’t force your kids to have friends. You can, however, encourage them to explore social outlets that suit their interests. Are they interested in sports? Encourage them to join a team. Do they like to sing or play an instrument? Maybe they would consider joining a band or choir. Or maybe there’s a club suited to their personality.
Most schools offer a wide range of extracurricular activities. There should be one or two that appeal to your child. If not, look out for opportunities in the community. Libraries and other social institutions may have resources that your school lacks.
The number of friends is less important than for kids to be included in healthy group activities and feel they belong.
Manage Screen Time
While excessive time on one’s phone isn’t enough to trigger thoughts of suicide, it can be one factor in a lifestyle that causes or worsens depression. Medical experts recommend an average of two hours a day in front of a screen for most kids and even less or none for young children.
That may sound like a manageable number, but keep in mind that there are many ways kids wind up in front of screens. They can easily spend two hours of screen time at school alone. Then there is homework to do on top of that.
Do they have a favorite television show? A video game they play to unwind? How about social media? Without careful parental intervention, screen numbers can quickly balloon into the unhealthy range.
Why does this matter?
There are a few reasons. For one thing, time spent in front of a screen is time that can’t be used for healthier activities. Kids who are constantly scrolling through their phones don’t have opportunities to exercise. They probably aren’t spending enough time outside, either.
Sleep rhythms are easily affected by screen use, and sleep deprivation can cause poor focus and irritability.
Many behaviors associated with high levels of screen time are also harmful to mental and emotional health. Social media, for example, often produces high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. This is especially true of young teenage girls., who are especially vulnerable to depression and suicidal thoughts related to social media.
Kids who spend a lot of time on social media may feel left out of the social gatherings of their peers. They may also spend an unhealthy amount of time comparing their own activities to the highly curated lives their classmates publish online.
Throw in other harmful factors, such as online bullying, and the dangers of social media only expand.
Then there are the risks associated with technology addiction. Kids addicted to their phones will often feel unwell unless they have a device in their hands.
Phone addiction can also result in insomnia, anxiety, and depression. The short of it? Parents should try to limit their children’s screen time and monitor the media they’re exposed to. This is especially important for kids suffering from depression.
Spend Time Outside
Playing outside for an hour a day is highly beneficial and necessary for children. It is especially important for people experiencing depression. Sunlight aids Vitamin D production and is essential for bone growth and mood. Playing a sport outside or going for walks as a family or with friends will increase feelings of well-being, improve sleep, and help relieve depressive symptoms.
Activities such as hiking and spending time in nature can be very restorative.
Make Sure Your Child Gets Enough Sleep
Kids need more sleep than adults and, unfortunately, are often sleep-deprived. Depression can alter sleep patterns and decrease both the amount and the quality of sleep.
Helping kids and teens improve their sleep pattern involve getting up at the same time each day and not sleeping too late on weekends. It may be difficult, but it’s one of the most critical behaviors for reducing depression.
Avoiding bright screens after sundown and any screens an hour or two before bedtime. Having a soothing bedtime ritual can be helpful, no matter the age. Opening curtains or sitting by a sunny window first thing in the morning can be invigorating.
Avoiding substances, especially alcohol and drugs of abuse is extremely important for developing brains.
Many substances can cause or worsen depressive symptoms, interfere with treatments, impair young people’s judgment, and make them more likely to act on suicidal thoughts.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Just like adults, kids need to feel heard and understood. Their problems might feel small to parents who often face bigger struggles, but it’s important to validate their feelings even if you do not understand them clearly.
Even if they’re receiving counseling, it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open and let them know you are willing to listen to their concerns.
Periodically checking in with your child is essential. It lets children know you’re there to support them. They should not feel pressured to share every detail of their lives, but when parents check in routinely with a caring tone, their children will be more likely to come to them with problems.
It may feel awkward at first, and kids, especially teens, might give one-word answers or be less inclined to talk. Don’t take it personally. When parents keep the lines of communication open over time, children and teens are more likely to feel they can trust them with their problems, including depression and thoughts of suicide.
Asking adolescents if they have suicidal thoughts will not give them the idea. They need to know they can talk to parents if they ever struggle with these thoughts.
A Tough Reality
Unfortunately, depression can happen at any age. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and from short-lived to long-lasting. The numbers spike in the teen years when depression often involves suicidal thoughts and behaviors. It is actually one of the leading causes of death in this age group.
Parents may feel helpless when trying to help their kids manage these symptoms. It’s crucial not to dismiss changes in mood and to seek help right away. Be open with professionals about your concerns and take care of your own health so you can better help your kids.
With the right support, kids’ depression can improve, and chances for future episodes can decrease.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-white-long-sleeve-shirt-and-blue-denim-jeans-sitting-on-table-3776181
October Is National Depression Education and Awareness Month
Depressive disorders come in many forms and can affect anyone, including teens and children. It is one of the most common mental health disorders, and with proper treatment, recovery is possible.
To call the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, dial 988
Text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor through the Crisis Text Line, a global not-for-profit.
Free 24/7, confidential.
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