10 Signs Your Child Is Depressed

Learn how to recognize signs that your child is depressed in this Howcast video about child anxiety issues.

I’m going to talk about the signs that your child is depressed. The reality is that children of all ages actually can be depressed. And sometimes it’s tricky for parents to figure out what’s just a kid being a kid or difficult behavior, and what’s a sign of depression. Parents should always keep in mind that if you have any questions or doubts about if your child is depressed, to really get some help, that you don’t have to go through this and figure it out on your own.

But in general, children as well as teenagers can become depressed. And, yes, they sometimes can look very sad and withdrawn, and those are the things we often associate with depression. But they also may be irritable or angry, and that’s often the way depression in young children shows up. It’s not them saying, “I’m so sad and hopeless and helpless.” That’s more what teenagers might say.

So with young children, sometimes it’s their behavior that tells you that something might be wrong and that they’re feeling depressed. So they might not be sleeping well. The signs of depression may vary depending on the age of the child. So young children may show that they’re depressed by being irritable or angry, or certainly by being more tired that we sometimes associate with adults.

You know, at any age, kids as well as teenagers may not be as interested in activities. They may not be as happy. They may be more withdrawn. They may not want to be hanging out with their friends. They may have trouble sleeping. And especially, you may want to look at when there’s changes in behaviors; changes in eating, changes in sleeping, changes in appetite, changing in performance at school, and changes in activity level.

With teenagers, it can be a little trickier sometimes, I think, for parents to figure it out and diagnose their child. Teenagers often don’t come out and say that, “I’m depressed.” They may act it by being more withdrawn, being in their room more. But they sometimes will make excuses for that behavior, and parents may think it’s just a teenager being a teenager. Or just because they’re on the computer more, that’s just what teenagers do. But what you don’t know is, what are they doing on the computer?

Are they withdrawing from friends? Are they being more…are they turning inward to themselves? Are they acting out and angry because they’re not feeling good about themselves? And sometimes, are they happy on the outside, but really struggling so much on the inside? With teenagers, too, something that can happen is they’re acting angry, but with them, they may act out. They may use drugs or alcohol or other kinds of things to try and help themselves with those feelings that they’re too worried about or embarrassed about talking about with someone.

For parents with children of any age, the things to think about and keep in mind when you’re concerned if your child is depressed, has there been a change in their behavior? Has it gone on too long? Is it intense? Is your child acting sad and withdrawn? And especially, are they feeling or talking about being hopeless and helpless, like there isn’t going to be a better day?

I think parents are often concerned — parents should be concerned when a child talks about hurting themselves, because you don’t know how serious that is. And you need to take it seriously because it may mean that they need help with how they’re feeling. And you don’t want that feeling to turn into a behavior that is self-destructive.

So in general, when you’re worried about a child who’s withdrawn, who’s not enjoying things they used to be doing, who’s by themselves, who’s not connecting, who’s changed their eating and their sleeping behaviors, you want to think about checking it out with a professional. Better to talk through what’s going on with a professional, and find the best way to help your child.