Do you think your child might be depressed?

Depression doesn’t only affect adults, it can affect children and teenagers too.According to Office of National Statistics figures, one child in 10 aged between five and sixteen has a recognisable mental disorder, with 4% of children suffering from an emotional disorder such as anxiety or depression.The problem for parents is that depression in children can be difficult to spot.

What are the symptoms of depression?

These could include:

  • being restless and agitated
  • waking up early, having difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more
  • lacking energy; doing less and less
  • not eating properly and losing or putting on weight
  • crying a lot
  • difficulty remembering things
  • physical aches and pains with no physical cause
  • feeling low-spirited for much of the time, every day
  • being unusually irritable or impatient
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • feeling unnecessarily guilty about things
  • lacking self-confidence and self-esteem
  • being preoccupied with negative thoughts
  • feeling helpless
  • experiencing a sense of unreality
  • self-harming (by cutting yourself, for example)
  • thinking about suicide

Some of these symptoms maybe part of life’s normal ups and downs so it is important to be able to tell if these are the beginnings of a more serious emotional health problem.

One of the obvious signs to look out for include a very low mood and unhappiness, with tearfulness or irritability that may not be related to anything specific. Also watch out for extremes in moods, like over reacting to an event.

If your child is unable to function properly at school or has lost interest in things they were previously interested in, then this could be a sign of depression.

What causes depression?

There is no one cause of depression and the reasons for it can vary from child to child. They also can occur through a combination of factors. Some children may be more prone to depression than others. This could be because of their experiences growing up or their family background.

In many cases, the first time a child becomes depressed it is normally triggered by an unwelcome or traumatic event. These feelings can be the start of a downward spiral.

Depression may also be caused by an underactive thyroid, which can cause a child to feel sluggish and lethargic. They may also put on weight, and feel depressed. There is also evidence suggesting that occasionally children can become depressed in response to certain foods. In these cases your doctor should be able to run tests to find out the cause and if necessary, treat it.

If you feel your child is suffering from depression, what should you do?

The first thing to do is talk to them to try and find out what’s troubling them. It is important not to trivialise it, no matter what they say the cause is. It may not be a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.

If you are still concerned about them after talking to them, then see your doctor. There are several options that your doctor may suggest, including counselling services for young people, family therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy. In severe cases a specialist may also consider antidepressant medication.

Activity is good for the mind

Enrolling your child in an activity like martial arts can help your child deal with a number of things in their life. Physical activity can stimulate chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which can help them feel more positive. At the Koushinkan Aikido Oxford club we include “mat chats” in our classes which cover topics like ‘how we feel’, and through these class discussions we can help your child build skills in how to deal with life’s up and downs. Aikido martial arts are a great way to keep your child active.

All children have moments in their lives when they feel moody or down. This is a normal part of the growing up. The most important thing you can do as a parent is to talk to your child about how they feel. Offer reassurance and make them feel respected, valued and loved.

To find out further information to go:

Young Minds website

NHS website

MIND website