Is your child depressed?

26 January 2016

Depression in children

This article is part one of two in which we will look at depression in children and young people. Please keep an eye out next week for part two, where we will discover the treatments available for depression and what you can expect from your child’s local clinical team.

Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from depression; children and teenagers can be affected by it too.

In fact, according to NHS Choices, figures from the Office of Statistics show that 10 per cent of children in the UK aged between five and 16 have a recognisable mental disorder, with 4 percent of children living with an emotional condition such as anxiety or depression.

Here, we’ve pooled together useful information and advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), NHS Choices and other specialist organisations to help you recognise depression in your child and act on your concerns.

Signs of depression in children

Spotting depression in children can be tricky, but there are ways to tell the difference between normal ups and downs and the start of something more serious. When a person has depression, they feel very sad and the feelings don’t go away or get worse.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Low mood and unhappiness
  • Tearfulness that may not be related to something specific
  • Irritability that may not be related to something specific—Tiredness—Boredom
  • Feeling worried or anxious

A child or young person with depression may also:

  • Find it difficult to concentrate
  • Distance themselves from friends and family
  • Have aches and pains
  • Eat less or more than usual
  • Have problems sleeping or sleep too much
  • Self harm
  • Feel life is not worth living

Factors that cause depression

Although depression can come out of the blue, there are also lots of reasons why people become depressed. For example, when someone dies it is normal for everyone in the family to feel distressed, but if your child’s reaction is too extreme or lasts a long time, this could be an indication of depression.

Here are some other examples:

  • Your family is homeless
  • Your child is being hurt or is at risk of being hurt at home
  • Your child is being treated differently because of their race—Bullying
  • Death of a parent, relative or someone close
  • Having other illnesses
  • Other members of your family are depressed
  • Divorce
  • Problems at school
  • Friendship problems

What should I do if I think my child is depressed?

If you feel your child might be depressed, the first thing to do is talk to them, advises Dr Navina Evans, consultant psychiatrist at the East London and City Mental Health Trust.

"Try to find out what's troubling them. And whatever's causing the problem, don't trivialise it. It may not be a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child."

If you’re still worried after talking to them, you should make an appointment to see your GP.

If your GP diagnoses your child with depression, they may suggest further treatment. There are several options, including:

  • Counselling services
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy, which is a type of talking therapy
  • In severe cases, a specialist may also consider antidepressant medication

Don’t forget to look out for part two of this series on childhood depression, where we will look at what happens beyond a diagnosis and what you should expect from your child’s clinical team.

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