My child depressed? Never.

Is your child depressed?

Childhood depression is very serious and is more common than you think. It can be caused by a number of factors such as neglect, abuse, parental depression, conflict in the home, junk food, being bullied at school, learning problems like ADHD or parental and peer pressure.  It is important to face these causes head-on as soon as you notice your child may be depressed.  But how do you know?  

The most common signs to look out for are:
•    losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
•    prolonged sadness
•    significant change in appetite (increase or decrease)
•    disrupted sleep patterns
•    mood swings
•    easily crying
•    talking about how 'bad' or 'useless' they are
•    stating 'no one likes me'
•    lack of energy
•    drop in school performance
•    repeated complaints of ailments such as stomach aches and headaches

Help your child out of depression
It will help to talk to a trained professional such as a child psychologist, but you can help too.

Counsellors use these 4 tools to help their clients and you can use them to help your child talk about his/her feelings as well:

1. Empathy:  Always be a safe place where your child can come and share his/her feelings with you. Become your child's best friend.  When they share their feelings, look at it from their perspective, not your own.  Acknowledge how they are feeling and don't push for the reasons behind their sadness.  Younger children especially are unable to find reasons why they are sad, they just know that they are.

Older children tend to respond when you start to talk about yourself.  Tell them about your own feelings and they may feel more comfortable telling you about theirs.

2. Objectivity: Try and be as neutral as possible and see your child's pain without falling apart yourself (at least not in front of the child).  Your child needs you to be strong enough so that the information they share won't break you or stop you loving him/her.

3. Mirroring:  To mirror back, you repeat what your child has just said to you. Mirroring helps your child feel heard and understood and it is also an opportunity for him/her to correct you if you understand it incorrectly.

4. Resolving:  Offer solutions to your child to help him/her move on. They are often unable to see the answers that you do.

In addition to being someone your child can talk to it is also important to give them loads of reassurance, ensure they are eating healthily and exercising regularly, and if they have highlighted a specific reason for their depression such as bullying or peer pressure, help them find practical solutions for these issues.  It may be necessary to approach your child's teacher to give feedback on how things are going at school in these cases.

If at any time you suspect physical or sexual abuse or if your child is self-harming in any way (cutting, pulling out their hair, other unexplained injuries) or if they even hint at suicide it is absolutely essential that you immediately seek professional help.  

Contact:  The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
Tel: 011 262 6396 or 0800 20 50 26
A trained counsellor will be able to assist you further and put you in contact with a child psychologist or psychiatrist in your area.

Have you had experience with childhood depression? How did you deal with it?

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