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How to Tell if Your Child is Depressed?

Representative Image.
(Getty Images)

Representative Image. (Getty Images)

Depression is a serious mental health issue, but many fail to realise that it affects children and adolescents too.

Depression is a serious mental health issue, but many fail to realise that it affects children and adolescents too. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), major depressive disorder can and does occur in children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years.

Can children get depressed?

A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine reveals that there have been very little school, clinic or community-based research into childhood depression in India, even though the risk factors associated with it are found in the country. These risk factors include education-related difficulties, economic difficulties, relationship issues with parents, abuse (physical, mental or sexual) and other family-related issues.

Childhood depression can not only harm your child right now but also affect his or her future. In extreme cases, childhood depression can even lead to suicidal tendencies, and this is most commonly observed during exam season. You should be taking note of all depression symptoms in your child, consult a psychologist, counsellor or psychiatrist and get help immediately because, thankfully, effective treatment for depression (like cognitive behavioural therapy) is available.

Symptoms of childhood depression

According to the DSM-5, if five or more of the following symptoms persist in your child for two weeks or more, they might be suffering from depression and you should consult a mental health professional immediately:

  • Persistent sadness, irritability and cranky mood
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities and games
  • Significant weight loss (more than 5% of total body weight within a month) or loss of appetite
  • Sleeping too much or inability to sleep at all
  • Psychomotor agitation, or feeling anxious or restless to make movements without meaning to
  • Fatigue or lack of energy (after little or no activity)
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Decreased concentration and/or indecisiveness.
  • Frequent and vague complaints about physical problems, pain, etc
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Increased anger, hostility and/or reckless behaviour
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Recurrent thoughts of death and/or suicide

A few or most of these symptoms can combine to cause significant distress and impairment in function. It’s highly likely that your child will not be able to verbally express what’s going on, which is why you and other adults around the child need to learn how to spot the symptoms. Children usually open up gradually if they trust that communicating their problem will result in it being taken seriously. This is why measures like keeping the channels of communication open and ensuring that what they say isn’t dismissed off-hand are very important.

For more information, read our article on Depression in children.

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first published:June 24, 2020, 13:21 IST