May 4, 2008 – 11:27 am

In our experience, depressed children often come from backgrounds where someone is already suffering from depression. When parents are depressed by family circumstances, it naturally follows that the children will also be despondent about the situation.

Depression occurs as a result of suppressing emotions and can be experienced from the age of five. Young children often do not have words to express their feelings and providing them with a non-verbal means of expression such as drawing can be very helpful. Showing a younger child pictures depicting a variety of facial expressions and asking them “ which one is you today?” can give them permission to express that they are feeling down.

When they are depressed, children often appear sad, withdrawn and lacking in self-esteem. Those with more extrovert personalities may appear aggressive and display attention-seeking behaviour when depressed, which can mask the underlying problem.

Children aged 5 – 10.

Things to look out for:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of interest
  • Not wanting to play
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Falling behind in class
  • Preoccupation with morbid issues

What can a parent do?

  • Give lots of cuddles, love and hugs – make them feel secure
  • Try to get them to talk if they are willing, but don’t pressurise them
  • Encourage playful activities
  • Ask their teacher if they seem depressed at school
  • Encourage them to do something creative – drawing, painting, model making etc
  • Encourage physical exercise if possible – sporting activities are ideal, or organised games
  • Joining a club such as cubs, brownies, beavers may help
  • Seek professional help if the depression lasts more than two weeks

Children aged 11 – 16

Between the ages of ten and sixteen, depression can be related to adolescent hormone changes, but this does not mean that it is any less painful for the young person who is affected. Mood swings are common at this age, but the danger signs are if the young person stays “down” without coming up again.

What can a parent do?

  • Avoid nagging, teasing or belittling them in any way, even if you mean it as a joke
  • Make time to listen to them without your own ‘agenda’ and avoid criticising or interrogating them
  • Spend “quality time” doing things together that you all enjoy
  • Make an effort to eat together regularly – either at home and/or going out to a favourite eatery
  • Wherever possible give praise, smiles and positive encouragement
  • Avoid telling them too much about your own problems and worries. Young people often tell us that they don’t want to “burden” their parents with their troubles as they are all too aware that their parents are struggling to cope with problems
  • Watch out for signs of drug or alcohol abuse – these can both lead to mood swings and depression

Being in a state of depression can be a passing phase, sometimes caused by the after effects of a physical illness such as influenza or a viral infection. Long winter months can also take their toll. But if a child is depressed for no obvious reason it is important to take action before it becomes a bigger problem than the difficulty that started it in the first place.

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