This article covers
- What is depression
- Causes of depression
- The symptoms of depression
- Treating depression
- List of useful resources
- How Mindsum can help?
What is depression?
Depression is when there is a change in the person’s mood, thoughts and behaviour. The changes in mood typically involve a low mood, but in children and young people this also includes an irritable mood.
Depression can be mild, moderate or severe. A mild depression might not stop a child or young person from going about their everyday life. But a moderate or severe depression that stops a child from doing their normal activities is a cause for concern.
During severe depression, a child or young person might become overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and worthlessness. For this reason, severe depression can make a child or young person feel suicidal. It is important to recognise these signs so that the right support can be given early on to prevent serious harm.
Causes of depression
The cause of depression in children and young people can include a combination of different factors. Here are some factors to consider:
- A history of depression in the family
- Conflict or violence at home
- Pressures at home or at school (e.g. having to take care of sick relative or having many exams)
- Big life changes (e.g. parent separation, death of loved one)
- Trauma, physical or sexual abuse
- Chronic illness (e.g. diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome)
The symptoms of depression
The symptoms of depression in children and young people are less obvious compared to adults. Children and young people show more of irritability and behavioural signs of depression. The symptoms of depression can include:
- Sadness that does not go away
- Being cranky or irritable
- Lack of interest in things previously enjoyed
- Loss of weight and/or appetite
- Interacting less with friends or family
- Difficulty to concentrate
- Problems with sleep
- Feeling tired all the time
- Feelings of guilt
- Feeling numb of emotions
- Having ideas about death and suicide
Young children may not look depressed and may not be able to explain that they feel sad. But they may show signs of irritability and can complain of headaches and abdominal pains.
Adolescents may report feeling low in mood and/or irritability. They may also blame themselves and express ideas related to self-harm or suicide.
“Tom’s parents recently split after many years of conflict. Since the split, Tom just doesn’t feel quite right. The things that use to get him excited, such as football, doesn’t interest him as much anymore. On most days, he has many thoughts and feelings of guilt about what happened. Sometimes these feelings are so intense that Tom can barely get out of bed. Tom’s friends know him as an active and outgoing person, but he rarely responds to their calls recently. Tom’s mother also noticed these changes in his behaviour and believe that it might be helpful for him to speak to a mental health expert.”
Depression can be managed and treated to prevent long term problems in the child or young person’s life. The treatments that are available include:
Talk therapy will help the child or young person to understand depression and learn the skills to manage it.
A mental health expert might provide:
- Counselling– These are supportive sessions where the therapist simply provides a safe space, where the child or young person can talk about their feelings.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)– This is a specialised therapy for depression. It will help the child or young person to learn how thoughts, feelings and behaviour relate to each other. The therapist will also teach specific skills for the child or young person to use against the symptoms of depression.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)– This therapy focuses on reducing depression by improving relationships in the child or young person’s life.
- Family therapy– This therapy focuses on other family members as well, and how they can play a part in helping the child or young person to recover from depression.
Medication for depression can be prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. This is only given if the child or young person is suffering from a moderate or severe form of depression. Medication is usually taken together with talk therapy for depression.
There are everyday things that can also be done to reduce or even stop the symptoms of depression. These include:
- Talking to loved ones – This can be helpful for you or for your loved one to not feel alone. Knowing that others are around to listen can be very comforting when dealing sadness.
- Doing regular exercise– Keeping active can fight off feelings of sadness by releasing “feel-good” hormones in the brain.
- Keeping a gratitude journal–Making a small list of things you are grateful for each day can be a helpful reminder that no matter how hard things get, there are still good things that exist.
- Doing enjoyable activities– Finding hobbies that give a sense of pleasure and achievement can be a good distraction and it can stop the depression from getting worse.
You can access more information about depression on the NHS website. Click here to access the link.
You can access useful resources about depression on the Mind website. Click here to access the link.
There are more information and support for children on the Young Minds website. Click here to access the link.
There are helpful books and advice on depression for children on the Reading Well website. Click here to access the link.