This is such an important topic to discuss, particularly with the current Covid-19 circumstances. Sometimes, depression is a very hard thing to spot. Having struggled with my own mental health as a child, I know just how important it is to get help as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive any help until I became an adult. There is such a stigma surrounding mental health and I am very passionate to try and change this.
Statistics currently show that, as of 2020, one in six children aged 5 to 16 were identified as having a probable mental disorder. This is an increase from one in nine in 2017.
I am now going to list some potential symptoms of depression in children and what you can potentially look out for.
- Sadness or low mood that does not go away
- Being irritable or grumpy all of the time
- Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Feeling tired all of the time – trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of interaction with friends and family
- Little confidence and indecisive
- Big changes in weight – eating less or overeating
- Thoughts about suicide or self-harm
- Actual self-harm
- Vocal outbursts or crying
- Poor academic performance
Symptoms are not limited to the above and childhood depression is a lot different to everyday emotions. However, different settings and different times will trigger different symptoms so bare this in mind.
A few things can increase the risk of depression in children. These can include family difficulties, bullying, any kind of abuse and a family history of mental illness. Often, depression is caused by a mixture of things.
I cannot stress the importance of talking to your child if you feel they may be depressed. This may well be all they need but sometimes you might have to seek advice or book an appointment with your GP.
Getting children to open up about the way they are feeling can sometimes be difficult. There are some things you can do which may help. In younger children, you could start by looking for clues through their play. Stressed and upset children often play fighting games with their toys. There is a potential here to try and open up a conversation with something like “there is a lot of fighting going on here, why is that?”. This could lead to the child opening up but please don’t be disheartened if this doesn’t happen.
Children can sometimes be too frightened to talk or find it harder to talk to a parent. Being able to talk to someone would be a good benefit, whether a different family member – grandparent/aunt, a family friend, teacher etc.
If you feel a trip to the GP is necessary, book an appointment. Your GP may refer you to your local children and young people’s mental health service in which you will receive specialist help (which is not as scary as it sounds!) In the meantime, there are ways in which you can support your child through this hard time.
- Try and open up a conversation about what is going on and how they are feeling or try another day if they don’t want to talk.
- Listen and provide emotional support. Try not to ask too many questions, be empathetic and let them know they can talk to you for as long as they need.
- Think together about whether there is anything in particular that is making them feel this way. For example, are they being bullied or left out at school? Have there been any family problems at home?
- If they feel unable to talk to you, try and encourage them to talk to someone else but reassure them that you are there if they need you.
- Support them in keeping routines, activities and connections with other people going as much as possible. Obviously this may be difficult given the current restrictions but even just a phone call with someone they are close to could help massively. Watching a favourite film or reading a good and uplifting book is an idea also.
- Help them to do daily things that support our well-being such as getting up at a regular time, eating well, exercising etc.
- Be consistent with reassurance and don’t ignore worrying signs. Always trust your gut instinct and seek professional help when needed.
Coming from personal experience and being mentally unwell as a child myself, support goes such a long way. I was always very close to my parents but I don’t think they fully understood my struggles. Partly because I was never completely honest about the way I was feeling and mental illness in children wasn’t really spoken about back then. I think we are very lucky now that people are taking it much more seriously but I do believe there is still a lack of education and misunderstanding surrounding it. Even more so when it comes to children. Education about mental health is so important and as parents (I am a mother myself) we know our children better than anyone in this world. If you even have a slight concern just talk to them. It is well documented that talking helps but your child may be too worried to make the first move. I understand that it may be daunting for you too, but together you can get through it along with the right support from your family and professionals if needed.
There are many organisations, mental health charities and support groups that can be found online and your doctor may even be able to provide details of one local to you. I will list below a few I have found on the internet that I believe will be a massive benefit.
- CALM, which is the Campaign Against Living Miserably – www.thecalmzone.net
- Mental Health Foundation, which provides support and information for anyone with mental health problems – www.mentalhealth.org.uk
- Mind, I have personally used this service and they provide great support – www.mind.org.uk
- Youngminds, dedicated to child and adolescent mental health – www.youngminds.org.uk
- You can find many websites and books, it just depends what works for you as a family.
Please remember you are not alone with this. There are others in this world going through the same thing. You only have to take the first step and the rest will follow in time. As clichéd as it sounds, keeps strong and take one day at a time.