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Does my child have depression or anxiety?

“Why are you feeling anxious? You’re just a kid, you have no real problems to deal with!” I, along with many of my friends, remember constantly hearing this from adults when we were teenagers.

I remember feeling as if I couldn’t feel worried or scared because I hadn’t earned the right to feel that way. As if there was some magical age where it would suddenly be okay to be anxious. I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenager to feel this way. While I personally was not diagnosed with depression or anxiety, depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health disorders in children and adolescents. It’s important to remember that depression and anxiety can affect people of any age.

Just like adults, it’s normal for children to have fears and worries. But when those fears and worries become prolonged or extreme, they could be due to depression or anxiety.


Signs of depression

Depression is more than just feeling sad or having a bad day. It's a serious condition that can affect one’s sleep, appetite, and energy levels. In children and adolescents, depression can also impact schoolwork, social life, and relationships with friends and family members.

Depression in children and adolescents may not always look the same as it does in adults because they have different needs at this stage of development. For example:

  • Some will show signs of sadness or irritability when they're depressed—but others might withdraw from friends and family members instead of expressing their feelings outwardly (like crying or yelling).

  • A child or adolescent with depression may have abnormal sleeping habits—either sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep. This may result in difficulty paying attention at school or being unable to complete homework.

  • Showing signs of self-injury or conducting self-destructive behaviors.

  • Some may cause trouble, causing others to label them as lazy or a troublemaker without recognizing it as a sign of depression.

  • Others may withdraw from others, making it difficult to notice that they are feeling depressed.

Signs of anxiety

Just like with depression, the signs and symptoms of anxiety can vary depending on one’s age and stage of development. Some signs may be:

  • Being fearful or worried about what may happen. This can include worrying about developing a serious illness or injury, being separated from parents or loved ones, performing poorly in school, disappointing others or oneself, and many other things.

  • Excessive shyness around unfamiliar people or situations (such as a new playdate).

  • Avoidance of specific situations that cause anxiety (for example, riding in elevators because it makes your child feel trapped).

  • Again, just like depression, anxiety can affect one’s sleep as they could be kept awake at night.

Depression in children and adolescents may not always look the same as it does in adults because they have different needs at this stage of development.

Diagnosis

Depression is typically diagnosed when symptoms last for 2 weeks or longer. The best way is to talk to your doctor or another qualified health professional. They can make a diagnosis and give advice about treatment options, which will be essential in learning to navigate this difficult situation.


Treatment

Depression and anxiety in children and adolescents can be treated with psychotherapy, medication and other interventions.

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapies for depression include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for younger children, family therapy for younger and older children, and play therapy with older children.

  • Medication: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety disorders

  • Changing behaviors: While changing behaviors may not completely treat depression and anxiety, it can help manage symptoms. Practicing mindfulness, doing physical activity, and getting a healthy amount of sleep each night are all helpful behaviors.

How can I help?

As a parent, you can help your child by:

  • Encouraging them to find ways to deal with their emotions. For instance, if they feel like crying, encourage them to have a good cry (if appropriate). You could also suggest some activities that might make them feel better—for example, spending time with friends or going for a walk in nature.

  • Encouraging them to seek professional support if they need it.

  • Learn to recognize warning signs. This is the first step to helping your child battle depression and/or anxiety.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety in children is the first step towards getting help. Especially since children with depression or anxiety may not show any outward symptoms, it’s important to pay attention to how your child is feeling inside. If you think that your child might be suffering from depression or anxiety, speak to a mental health professional immediately. They will be able to give you advice on how best to manage these conditions so that they don't develop into something more serious later on in life.