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We all feel sad and down sometimes – maybe things don’t go our way, we get hurt, or we lose someone close to us – and children are no different.
But having depression is more than just being sad. Depression affects the way we think, and how we see ourselves and our future. Along with feeling sad or irritable, it may seem that nothing is worthwhile and that things will never get better.
Depression can stop kids enjoying the things they normally like doing, or taking part in their usual activities.
Children often find it difficult to explain how they’re feeling, especially if they’re experiencing depression. However, there are a few key signs and symptoms to look out for – particularly if they happen together over several weeks and are out of character for your child.
Children with depression may:
Because the symptoms of depression are often characterised by negative behaviour such as irritability or whining, it’s easy to feel annoyed and to blame or punish the child for their behaviour. This can result in other signs of depression being missed.
Depression affects children’s thinking as well as their mood and behaviour. They may think they’re worthless or that things will never get better. Some kids also have thoughts of suicide.
If you’ve noticed that a child you care about doesn’t seem themselves, the first step is to talk about what’s going on and how they’re feeling. If they reply with a ‘dunno’, suggest some feeling words and see if any hit the mark with them.
Let your child know that it’s OK to ask for help and that you’re ready to listen to whatever they want to say. If they’re distressed about a particular situation, you can help them to solve the problem or ﬁnd ways yourself to improve the situation.
You could also try doing something fun, getting outside and doing some exercise, or doing something special together.
Make time and space for your child to talk to you – this works best when you can be unhurried and uninterrupted. Kids often ﬁnd it easier to talk when they’re doing something with you. Ordinary activities like playing with you at home, going on a shopping trip, or going for a long drive might help them to open up.
You’re trying to create a space where your child can talk to you about anything, so being judgemental or cutting in too soon to offer advice is a sure fire way of shutting this down. Let your child have whatever emotion they need to express what’s on their mind. Listening carefully and asking questions before responding helps to show your child you understand them.
When a child is experiencing depression, their thinking can get clouded by lots of negatives. The more they dwell on problems and issues, the bigger these become. Activities and everyday routines can help distract kids from negative thinking patterns.
Spending time with friends can help to reduce unhappy feelings – it helps to know you’re liked and appreciated. Friends are also a great distraction and can suggest better ways of thinking about situations. If your child seems reluctant to spend time with friends, help them start small – an hour playing with a friend, or suggest a fun activity that doesn’t require too much talking, like throwing a ball or watching a movie.
If your child’s change of mood is very severe or goes on for a few weeks without improving, it’s time to do something about it. Don’t leave it and assume things will get better on their own. Seeking help early for your child is the best thing you can do.
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