How to discuss childhood depression

It’s not uncommon to see a child get sad. Parents will often do their best to help cheer them up, and it usually works. Symptoms can disappear in just minutes or hours. But sometimes they don’t, and that’s when a conversation about depression may be needed.

Prevalence, causes and symptoms

Childhood depression is a condition that affects about 2 percent of prepubertal children and about 5-8 percent of adolescents. The causes can vary from child-to-child.

“Causes range from biological to environmental,” SSM Health Psychologist Dr. Paul Greblo said.

“Oftentimes it is very difficult to tease out what may be contributing to depression in any particular child.”
Symptoms can also fluctuate. These are some of the most common signs:

— Low or sad mood

— Greater agitation

— Lack of energy

— Drop in school performance

— Sleep changes

— Appetite and weight changes

— Trouble concentrating

— Diminished pleasure from life or activities previously enjoyed

How to react as a parent

Greblo says the manifestation of depression in children comes out in different forms, compared to adults. Kids are more likely to show irritability and express physical complaints.

“Watch for signs of poor self-esteem and personal insecurities,” Greblo said. “If a child is saying things like ‘I’m no good’ and indicating he or she feels hopeless, this could denote a more serious depression.”
Parents can be alert to changes, but try not to overreact. Brief changes in mood and behavior are normal. But if signs and symptoms persist for weeks or longer, exploring what the child is thinking and feeling is a good idea.

Try not to give up hope

If your child needs help from a doctor or provider, it’s not to be viewed negatively. A physical examination with a pediatrician may be where the process starts. They can rule out whether medical conditions, such as anemia, are mimicking depressive symptoms.

If difficulties continue, a consultation with a mental health professional with experience working with children is recommended by Greblo. He says a variety of effective treatments are available once a diagnosis of depression is made.

“It’s very important that parent and child retain a sense of hopefulness that improvements can be made,” Greblo said. “And never try to blame yourself or your child, because depression is definitely not a sign of weakness and it is not a choice that one makes to experience these challenging feelings.”