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Clinical depression doesn't have any single cause. Some people become depressed without an obvious trigger, but events like illness, stressful events, loneliness, pregnancy or being a new mom, and alcohol abuse can often trigger depression. A person's family history and personality also play a large role.
There is no "typical candidate" for depression — people of all ages and walks of life become depressed. That can include children as young as five. Childhood depression is a problem that deserves to be taken seriously. According to the British National Health Service (NHS), it's becoming increasingly common in the UK at least.
The UK's National Institute For Health And Care Excellence (NICE) has recently released new guidelines that should help improve the care of children and young people with depression. NICE notes that depression has a wide variety of symptoms and affects individuals in different ways. Depression can be mild, severe, or anything in between.
Nearly 80,000 children in the UK suffer from severe depression, NICE reported. That includes 8,000 children who are under 10 years old!
Those are significant numbers that should be enough to bring this problem to anyone's attention, and childhood depression is certainly not a UK problem alone. What are the signs, symptoms, and triggers of childhood depression? And what does NICE have to say about its treatment?
Depression In Children: The Signs
Every child is sad and irritated at times, and most crave solitude at least occasionally. Persistent sadness, self-isolation, and no longer enjoying the activities they previously loved are more worrying signs. Childhood depression can easily be missed by healthcare providers who are quick to pass the symptoms off as normal childhood stresses or exaggeration, and they may even you are simply an "overprotective parent".
Even parents can miss a child's depression, though — if your child seems "off" after coming home from school, you may think she's simply exhausted or had an argument with her friends. If you also have a busy and stressful life, it may not even occur to you that your child might be depressed.
So, here are the tell-tale symptoms to watch out for:
- Moodiness and irritability
- Sadness, sometimes including lots of crying
- Withdrawing from you, friends, and social activities
- A higher sensitivity to criticism and rejection
- Sleep problems and complaining of fatigue or low energy
- Decreased performance at school or in other areas, and trouble concentrating
- You may not notice it, but the depressed child can struggle with feelings of worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness, suicide and self-harm
As with adults, not all depressed children manifest all signs of depression and depression can be mild, moderate, or severe. Some of these symptoms are also signs of other psychological and physical conditions, but when they persist for a longer period of time and don't pass naturally, a trip to your pediatrician is always warranted.
If they don't take you seriously for whatever reason, then don't hesitate to seek a second opinion.
Parents can, of course, always talk to their kids about how they are feeling. Having a secure, loving relationship means that your child might feel comfortable sharing his true feelings — but certainly not always. Your child's depression may even be due to some traumatic event that you didn't know took place. Bullying at school or sexual abuse are examples of traumatic events that children may prefer to hide even from their parents.
Don't try to solve the situation alone of it's clear that your child is depressed, but do reach out and make it clear that you are there to support your child and listen whenever he wants to talk.