Your kids and depression

Do you think your child may be depressed? Here’s how you can tell, according to Johannesburg-based psychiatrist David Benn:


Signs to watch

• A sudden change in behaviour such as an active child who becomes increasingly sleepy during the day or a laidback child becoming hyperactive.

• Frequent stomach aches and headaches.

• Irritability.

• Frequent sadness and crying.

• Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities.

• Excessive clinging to parents.

• Lack of appetite and sleep problems.

Possible causes

Depression can be triggered by a nasty divorce, custody issues, illness, substance abuse in the family, death of a parent, close friend or sibling and physical or mental abuse and causes for depression in primary school kids can also apply.


Signs to watch

• Suddenly becoming anxious about going to school.

• Changes in sleep patterns.

• Significant weight loss/gain.

• Frequent worrying or suddenly developing low self esteem.

• Unprovoked aggressive behaviour. “Depressed children may lack motivation to do their schoolwork properly and so their grades drop,” Benn says.“They’ll lose interest in things they love – the keen cricketer

• No longer wants to go to practice.They could also become withdrawn from their friends.”

• Frequent tummy aches and headaches. “Children are notpretending to have tummy aches – they really have them,”Benn says. “Parents often take their kids to their GP because of these aches and pains and a

• Sensitive doctor may be able to detect depression.”

Possible causes

The causes of depression in preschoolers also apply and include the death of a parent, close friend or sibling, divorce, family conflict, abuse, being bullied at school or major life changes such as changing schools or towns.


Signs to watch

• Inattention to appearance.

• Difficulty concentrating.

• Constant fatigue.

• Avoiding family and friends.

• Running away from home.

• Developing suicidal thoughts or actions.

• Extreme sensitivity to failure.

• Low self-esteem.

• Loss of appetite.

• Loss of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities.

• Crying often and becoming easily irritated and angry.

• Missing school because of stomach pains and headaches.

• Experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Possible causes The causes in preschoolers and primary schoolers can also apply and include a devastating break-up of a romance, dysfunctional family relationships such as excessive parental criticism

and lack of parental support.


If you’re starting to see any of the above behaviour in your child, here’s what you should do, according to Hanita Prag, a clinical psychologist in Port Elizabeth.

• Take swift action to solve underlying conflict at home.

• “Parents need to be especially supportive if there is a depressed child in the house,”

• Hanita Prag says. “Unconditional love and acceptance play a vital role. Children also thrive on structure and discipline in the home so set boundaries.” For example your teenage child should have a curfew and find a hobby or activity she enjoys and is committed to.

• When your child has been diagnosed ensure he feels comfortable with the psychologist he’s seeing. If it’s not a good fit find another therapist.

• Let your child’s teacher and guidance counsellor know the child is depressed so he can get extra support at school.

• Encourage daily exercise to boost your child’s natural feel-good hormones.

For assistance call Sadag’s toll-free helpline on 0800-567-567 or SMS 31393. You can also visit their website

Compiled from Kim van Reizig’s article Your Kids and Depression (YOU 8 October 2009)

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