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Signs of Depression in Children and Teens

By Marc Courtiol

While childhood depression can be triggered by events such as changing schools, divorce, moving, or a death in the family, there is a genetic component to depressive mood disorders, and some children are more predisposed to these feelings than others. In past generations childhood depression was often dismissed as normal growing pains, but now that we know more about the causes, symptoms and long-term effects of depression, early detection and treatment of depression have become important concerns.

If you suspect that your young child may be suffering from depression, do not dismiss it. Depression can take root early in life and have long-lasting effects, but you can take steps now to ensure that your child lives a full and happy life. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of childhood depression:

Family history: If there is a history of depression in your family, pay extra close attention to the moods of your child. Even if neither you nor the other parent have depression, these afflictions can skip generations. If you have any parents or siblings who have struggled with mood disorders, then your child could be at greater risk.

Irritability: The symptoms of childhood depression mimic those of adult depression in many ways, but there are important differences. For one, while depressed adults often become withdrawn and sad, depressed children are more likely to become irritable and have outbursts of irrational emotion. They do not have the emotional maturity to recognize the meaning of their feelings, so they lash out.

Loss of interest in activities: If your child frequently complains that she is bored, or if she does not seem interested in any of the activities she used to enjoy, this could be a sign that her mood has declined.

Social difficulties: Having an active social life is a crucial part of childhood development. Depressed children often have trouble interacting with their peers and maintaining friendships, which can lead to arrested development in the social sphere. If not changed early, this can have negative social effects for life.

Frequent complaining: More often than in grown-ups, depression in children can lead to physical aches and pains. If your child frequently complains of headaches, stomachaches, or other pains, be sure to take her to the doctor for a checkup. If nothing is physically wrong, it could be that the pains are triggered by depression. They may be signs that your child is reaching out for help.

Declining school performance: To do well in school, children need to be focused and engaged. Depression can get in the way of this. If his grades have declined, or if he frequently expresses an intense aversion to school, it could be that depression has begun to interfere with his studies.

Frequent crying: Children who are depressed often cry for seemingly no reason. If your child sometimes cries but cannot seem to tell you what is wrong, it could be a sign of unusually melancholy feelings within.

Violence or aggression: Depression can cause children to become aggressive toward their peers or siblings. Some children are naturally rougher than others, but if your child has suddenly become aggressive or has repeatedly gotten in trouble at school for fighting, it could be linked to depression.

Low self-esteem: Childhood depression often goes hand in hand with feelings of low self-worth. If your child often speaks negatively of herself or seems to lack confidence, these might be symptoms of depression.

Morbid thoughts: Children who are depressed sometimes become obsessed with death or violence, and if they do not express these thoughts openly, it may come out in schoolwork or in things like drawings or writings.

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