Depression may manifest itself differently in a child or adolescent, as compared to an adult. Instead of a depressed mood, you may observe irritability in your child. He may be grumpy or prone to angry outbursts.
In general, a child or adolescent may be depressed if he or she, in span of over two weeks:
- Sleeps excessively or too little;
- Feels hopeless, worthless, or guilty (e.g. negative self-talk “I am a failure”; “I am bad”);
- Displays a marked increase or decrease in appetite and body weight (e.g. change of more than 5% of body weight in a month);
- Displays a lack of or heightened physical and emotional reactions (e.g. difficulty getting out of bed versus intense anxiety and pacing about in the room);
- Has trouble focusing, thinking, or making decisions;
- Thinks about death or suicide frequently.
What can I do to help?
Empathise. Normalise. Affirm.
As a parent, accept your child’s feelings even though you may not understand. Instead of telling him that he should not feel a certain way, listen closely and empathise. For example, instead of saying, “You should not be feeling sad…there are many things to be happy about,” say, “You are feeling sad…and you find it hard to get out of bed. It must have been difficult for you to get to school.” Allow your child to express his feelings in an open manner.
Be patient and kind – to your child and yourself
Living with a child or adolescent with depression can be exhausting. At times, you may experience anger, guilt, and a sense of rejection. In moments like this, it is important to remember that your child is not being difficult intentionally. While seeking to appreciate your child, you also need to be kind to yourself by eating right, getting sufficient sleep and setting aside small pockets of “me” time for activities that will help you relax.
Encourage physical activity
Do you know that exercise can relieve symptoms of depression? This includes simple activities such as a stroll or slow jog. You can also encourage your child to attempt some simple tasks that will provide him a sense of accomplishment. For example, he can help tidy up a drawer or a corner of the room. Start small and as your child improves, you can suggest physical activities that require more energy, effort and time.
Encourage social activity
Your child may want to stay in his or her room all the time. However, social isolation only makes depression worse. Encourage your child to meet up with his or her friends. Acknowledge his extra effort by giving descriptive praises such as, “I know that it is very hard for you to go out to the playground with Sam but you did it! I am very proud that you tried!”
Seek evaluation and treatment
Depression, if left untreated, can be catastrophic. Seek professional help. As many conditions can be confused with depression (e.g. diabetes), it is important to rule it out early. Lastly, it is important for the family to stay involved during the treatment. The support of the family will go a long way in helping your child overcome this trying time.
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