MOODY or depressed?

Most of the time, it’s the former, and your child or teen is behaving like you’d expect for their age.

But kids can get depressed too – and it’s your job as a parent to know the signs.

Dr Nihara Krause, a consultant clinical psychologist and founder of youth mental health charity stem4, told The Sun: “I am often asked whether children and young people can truly be diagnosed with clinical depression.

“My answer to this is yes, because clinical depression is an illness and can often start in early-mid childhood, affecting around one in eight children and young people.

“As we emerge from two years that have been like no other, it is probably true to say that many young people will feel tired, low and negative.”

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So how might a parent separate such ups and downs from early signs of depression?

Recognising someone is experiencing depression can be difficult, regardless of whether they are a child or adult.

People with the mental health illness don’t just walk around in tears declaring they are depressed. In fact, they may seem completely fine.

“For a parent, the signs are not so easy to spot since being depressed doesn’t automatically mean children or young people will look down or sad,” says Dr Krause.

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“Childhood or adolescent depression should always be diagnosed by a suitably qualified professional, since not all young people have all the symptoms described.

“In fact many will show different symptoms in different settings. The important thing in these instances is to not discredit them as a result.”

The 12 signs and symptoms

No child is the same, but there are some common symptoms of depression to be aware of..

They are centred around a general feeling of sadness and hopelessness.

Dr Krause says to look out for:

  1. Persistent tearfulness or sadness
  2. Hopelessness
  3. Sleep routine changes
  4. Eating changes
  5. Fatigue
  6. Complain of pain
  7. Withdrawal from activities they enjoyed and socialising
  8. Showing negative attitudes towards schoolwork
  9. Difficulty concentrating
  10. Poor motivation
  11. An increase in risk behaviours, self-harm and have thoughts of death or suicide
  12. Self-soothing behaviours, like gaming

Dr Krause says some symptoms might fly under the radar.

They can appear normal for most teenagers – particularly withdrawing into self-soothing behaviours, “most often online activities or games where they can avoid facing reality,” she explains.

“This can be particularly difficult to separate from general adolescent online behaviour which can be excessive.”

Who is at risk?

Depression is brought about by a number of factors relating to environment, genetics, life events and lifestyle habits.

But sometimes there is no clear reason at all why someone may end up experiencing the condition. 

Dr Krause says a family history of depression may predispose your child.

Other factors include “any major life events (for example, parent divorce) or unexpected or significant bereavement”.

Bullying, trauma or poor physical health can also develop into depression.

“Young people who may be questioning their sexuality or gender or are LGBTQ+ are also at higher risk of depression,” adds Dr Krause.

What to do next?

So you think your child may have depression, what next?

Dr Krause says: “If you are concerned, the first step is to see your GP to assess physical state as well as mental state.”

A GP can refer your child to a local children and young people's mental health service (CYPMHS) for specialist help.

CYPMHS will have waiting times of varying lengths depending on where you live.

The positive thing to remember, Dr Krause says, is that depression is very effectively treated once diagnosed.

Treatment usually “will include individual or family talking treatments and occasionally medication.”

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Dr Krause adds: “Regular exercise is effective in regulating mild depression and following a healthy eating plan and sleeping adequately should all be part of a treatment plan.”

She recommends the Move Mood app she designed for stem4.

“It uses an approach called Behavioural Activation Therapy (BAT) which helps set goals to start doing things you value in order to help break the vicious cycle of depressive behaviours to get you back on track", she said.

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