You may have heard recent news about child suicide, including a 9-year-old in the Dallas area. Most suicide attempts in children and adolescents occur in the midst of depression or other mood disorder, and even younger children can experience depression. And now you may be wondering how common is depression in children and adolescents; what kind of signs should you look for as a parent; and what you can do if your child is showing any of these signs.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says on any given day about 2 percent of school-aged children and about 8 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression. Even preschoolers have been known to show signs of depression, NAMI says.
Signs of depression
Depression is more than just feeling blue or down in the dumps for a day or two. Instead, it is a change in usual behavior that lasts for several weeks. Signs to look for in children and adolescents include:
- Feeling persistently sad or blue
- Becoming much more irritable or suddenly getting into trouble a lot
- Failing to engage in previously pleasurable activities or interactions with friends
- Having a marked deterioration in school or home functioning
- Reporting persistent physical complaints and/or making many visits to school nurses
- Talking about suicide or being better off dead
There are more signs and symptoms to look for in children and adolescents, Children’s Medical Center says.
What can I do as a parent?
Dr. Graham Emslie, the division director of Psychiatry Services at Children’s, is an internationally known expert on psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents, and Children’s has the specialized ability to treat children and adolescents with mood disorders.
Dr. Emslie has this advice for parents
- Educate yourself about depression so you can be on the alert for signs of the illness
- Seek medical advice for your child or adolescent if his or her symptoms persist for two weeks or more
- Mood disorders will not go away on their own. Treatment is needed
- Medications are available specifically for children and adolescents
- Talk therapy may be an alternative to or go along with medications in treatment
- Family support is very important in treating depression