What is it?
It’s normal for kids to feel sad or act irritable at times. But when a sad or bad mood lasts for weeks or longer, accompanied by other changes in a child’s behaviour, these may be signs of depression.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Symptoms of depression in young children often include:
- sadness or a low mood that does not go away
- being irritable all the time
- not being interested in things they used to enjoy
- feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time
- trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
- inability to concentrate
- interact less with friends and family
- acting indecisive
- low self-esteem
- weight changes (e.g. eating less than usual or overeating to feel better)
- unable to relax or are more lethargic than usual
- talking about feeling guilty or worthless
- feeling empty or numb
- self-harming thoughts and behaviours
When is it time to seek professional help?
Research studies suggest that age 3 is the lowest threshold at which childhood depression appears, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be identified earlier or that there aren’t risk signs earlier. It may be time to seek professional help if the child is showing signs of depression and you’re concerned that it is affecting their eating and sleeping habits as well as their home and school life.
Reach out for help when efforts to encourage them to talk about their feelings and to manage the symptoms of depression yourself are not helping.
What can be done?
Psychotherapy refers to a wide range of techniques and methods used to help children who are experiencing difficulties with their emotions or behaviour. There is good evidence for the effectiveness of psychotherapy as a treatment for depression in young children. Some common types of psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Family-based therapy
Children with depression can benefit from medication such as antidepressants. Medication is often for more severe depression or when psychotherapy approaches aren’t providing effective treatment.
What makes some children more vulnerable to depression?
Sometimes depression is triggered by a single difficult event, such as the death of a loved one or problems in school but it is often caused by a combination of factors. Factors that increase the risk of depression in children include:
- natural disasters
- family difficulties
- trauma, adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress
- family history of depression or other mental health challenges
Where can I access support?
Talk to the child’s family doctor or pediatrician to help identify if the child’s behaviour is normal for their developmental stage.
Talk to the child’s guardianship worker to explore what options are available for assessment so their diagnosis and treatment plan can be included in their Care Plan. The guardianship worker will help make appropriate referrals for specialized supports and services.
Get an assessment through your local Child and Youth Mental Health team. Your local CYMH office offers a range of free and voluntary mental health services and supports for children from 0-18 years of age and their families. These services include assessments, therapy and treatment, education and referrals to specialized programs and resources. There are 100 intake clinics for children, youth and their families at convenient locations throughout BC.
You can also contact a private psychologist or counsellor through the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors or the BC Psychological Association. You can use website filters to search for a counsellor in your community that specializes in certain mental health challenges.
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