Depression can be difficult to identify because not all people struggling with depression act sad or “depressed”. Depression can look very different depending on the combination of symptoms present and the developmental age (and even gender, race and ethnic background, etc.) of the individual. Because children manifest depression in different ways from adults, and even child to child, an important symptom to look for is a change in behavior and/or mood. Depending on a child’s verbal capacity and ability to identify, label, and express their emotions, they may be more prone to act out their emotions and other symptoms as opposed to verbalizing them. Some children may do this outwardly resulting in a hostile or rude attitude and/or increased tantrums, while other kids may turn their feelings inward, or due to feelings of guilt, may attempt to present as “happy” despite not genuinely feeling this way, becoming more withdrawn, interacting less with friends and family, sleeping more, and/or possibly engaging in self-harming behaviors, or substance use.
Some kids may exhibit school avoidance or a decline in academic performance and increased physical complaints (with no medical cause), while others will present with increased moodiness or seem overly sensitive (with or without tearfulness) or “grouchy”. Other kids may demonstrate increased anger, irritability, and/or tantrum behaviors. Some children may become anxious to leave their parents, struggle with sleep, either fighting bed time or wanting to sleep with parents suddenly, or inversely, they may want to be alone in their rooms and sleep or lay down more often. Academic and/or athletic performance may drop or they may appear more disorganized or seem to lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. A child who was interested in playing or hanging out with friends may become more withdrawn choosing to be alone more often.
Symptoms of Depression
(Please note: all symptoms listed below do not have to be present for an individual to be struggling with depression. This list is simply a guide and is not intended for diagnosis of depression.)
~Changes in mood: feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, increased tearfulness, irritability, anger, and/or hostility.
~A sense of hopelessness or helplessness about themselves and/or their future (lack of effort, feeling as if there is no point, etc.)
~Low self-esteem (feeling not good enough, like a failure, a burden to others, or having a negative view of oneself)
~Changes in sleep (increase or decrease)
~Changes in appetite (increase or decrease)
~Lack of energy and fatigue
~Change in appearance and/or hygiene (not showering regularly, previously wore make-up but not lately, not brushing their hair, wearing sweats all the time when they used to dress up, gravitating toward a darker or more gothic style, etc.)
~Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
~Decline in academic performance and/or attendance
~Frequent physical complaints (i.e., headaches, stomachaches, and muscle aches- especially back, shoulders, and neck are common)
~Interests in “darker” content (writing or music about death, depression, etc.)
~Lack of pleasure and/or interest in things that they previously enjoyed
~Thoughts of death and/or suicide
Research shows that only about 20% of youth get the help they need for depression because either it goes unnoticed or parents may think “it’s just a phase.” Kids often do not know what to do with these thoughts and feelings (and may also struggle to effectively communicate them) or may feel guilty or embarrassed to ask for help. The key is to be aware of the symptoms so you can seek help if necessary.
*If you or your child are experiencing similar symptoms described above, contact Tandem Mental Health Associates, Inc. to schedule an evaluation at (804) 277-9877 or request an appointment online at tandemmentalhealth.com. Prospective clients are also welcome to schedule a free 10-minute phone or in-person consultation to be sure we are the right fit for you and/or your child.