Depression in young people can occur regardless of age, socio-economic background, or other demographics. It is not just adolescents that are vulnerable to depression; preschoolers and infants can develop depression too.
Shouldn’t all parents of young people be concerned? Yes, most definitely! However, make sure that it’s a case of depression and not anxiety or sadness in your child. Symptoms of depression are similar across all youth age groups. However, there is often a difference in how the symptoms manifest themselves.
Knowing the different ways in which symptoms of depression may manifest themselves in children and adolescents will allow you to identify and then address the depression affecting your child’s wellness. The symptoms of depression and how they may manifest themselves in your child are discussed next.
The Symptoms of Depression and How They Manifest Themselves in Young People
There are several symptoms of depression in young people. Some common symptoms include:
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Feelings of guilt
- Losing interest in activities that were a source of joy and pleasure previously
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty in or inability to make decisions
- Insomnia or sleeping more than normal
- Stuttering or other speech problems that previously did not exist
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain or loss of greater than 5 percent
If you notice these symptoms in your child, and they last for longer than two weeks, it is an indication of depression that can only be overcome with professional help and counseling. Now, as mentioned earlier, the symptoms of depression can manifest themselves differently in different children depending on age and other factors.
Some examples of how depression manifests among school-aged children and adolescents include behavioral changes. Children who present behaviors that are uncharacteristic of them could be experiencing depression.
For example, if a previously happy child begins acting out, then this could be a sign of depression. This can be especially true in younger children who do not have the ability to express their thoughts and feelings yet and instead act out how they are feeling. They may act out by hitting others, being uncooperative, or showing rage, anger, or irritability.
A major sign of depression in adolescents is when they begin acting out sexually, becoming promiscuous, and showing no concern for their well-being. Another form of how depression that may manifest itself in school-aged children and adolescents is hypersensitivity to situations. In this condition, things that would not normally trigger a child may now result in crying and/or avoidance of situations.
Poor grades are another telltale sign that your child may have depression; a child who previously got good grades may start to perform poorly in school when going through feelings of depression.
Somatic complaints are also an indication of depression in the youth; young people often manifest depression through physical signs such as diarrhea, headache, stomach ache, etc. In older teens and young adults, substance abuse is a major sign of depression.
Substance abuse is an attempt by young people to numb their feelings, and they may start using drugs/drinking alcohol to get momentary relief. Signs of major depression include giving away prized possessions and mentioning suicide; the latter is a sign of severe depression and needs to be addressed immediately, preferably with professional help and counseling.
In summary, symptoms of depression tend to be similar in all ages, but how those symptoms are manifested can be different; manifestations of symptoms are dependent on the age and life stage of the person with depression. Therefore, you should pay special attention to these signs in your children if you begin to see them; this will allow you to know whether it is depression or something else that your child is going through.
Addressing Depression in Young People
For many parents, it can be hard to address depression in their children. This is because young people are not very receptive to older people, especially their parents, asking them about their feelings or what their concerns are.
Despite this, parents must start to address depression in their child with validation. This is acknowledgment and recognition of what you notice in your child. For example, you could say to your child, ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been feeling upset a lot lately, and you’re not going to football practice these last two weeks. I’m worried that maybe something is going on. If you’d like to talk about it, then I’m all ears.’
Your child may not be receptive to this initiative and may even shut down your invitation completely. However, this will get the ball rolling, and that is what matters; your kid will see that you have noticed that something’s going, have expressed your concerns, and offered support. Even if it seems like your child really doesn’t want your help, you would have taken the first step towards addressing depression in your child.
A mistake that many parents of teenagers make is putting everything down to ‘being a teenager’ when they notice signs of depression in their child. Teenagers get a bit of a bad rep; they are misconstrued at times as being lazy or being self-centered. However, if we understand what’s going on from a developmental point of view, i.e., what’s happening in their brains right now and in that period of time, we find out that they’re doing seneschal work that equips them for future life.
From about 11 years, i.e., around the onset of puberty, through to the early 20s: that’s how long it takes for all of these developments or processes to actually happen. So, the part of the brain that will help a young person to establish whether doing something is a good idea, thoughts such as ‘should I really do that’ doesn’t get fully wired up until their early twenties.
Just let a young person know that you’re available for support but give them the autonomy and freedom to come to you when they feel able to ask for it. When a request comes to you, try to be quick in that response. However, it’s not always possible. So, if you can’t immediately listen to a young person who wants to talk or let you know what’s going on, make a plan to come back and talk to them.
If they’re thinking perhaps of whether their life’s worth living, it’s easy to panic; it’s easy to want to jump in and fix something but what young people really need is somebody who can just stay calm, who can listen, who can be interested in what they have to do and then provide potential fixes that are helpful.
If you are concerned about the things that a young person is talking to you about and you feel that this isn’t something that you can address on your own, then it is important to go to professionals who are trained in terms of mental health support, such as counselors or psychologists. They will be able to come up with a suitable plan to address the depression affecting your child’s health and wellness.