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What if He or She Just Has the Blues?
In recent years, there has been a groundswell of activism and campaigning to reduce the stigma of depression and mental health anomalies. A number of celebrities and public figures have come forward to tell their stories of struggling with depression.
Though we accept what we hear about adults dealing with depression, it’s difficult to recognize the early warning signs of depression in children. When a child or teen is withdrawn, sullen or frequently sad, adults often assume “It’s just a phase he’s going through.”, or “She’s just hormonal!”
Maybe your child is growing through a difficult time, or their emotions are being affected by hormones. Maybe there is a long term mental health condition which you should recognize, and work with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
Here is some guidance we’ve curated from professionals on how to determine:
- If your son or daughter might have a depression disorder, or just have “the blues”
- Common symptoms and signals you can watch for
- When you should contact your doctor, social worker or other professional
How to Spot a “Black Dog” In Your Child’s Life
Australian author Matthew Johnstone published a compelling book living with depression called “I Had a Black Dog”. It has become a global phenomenon, and inspired an awareness campaign from the World Health Organization. It identifies depression as a mood disorder, but one which can be managed by therapy, medication or a physical wellness programs.
The “Black Dog Book” identifies many of the symptoms of living with depression like:
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Severe spikes in appetite, and weight loss or gain
- Anger, guilt, feelings of worthlessness and/or irritability
- Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in activities your child usually loves to do
- Withdrawal from friends, family and social events
- Strange aches and pains
- Difficulty concentrating, poor performance in school
- General negativity or ambiguous thoughts
- Lack of interest in personal hygiene, dress or being around people
If you find your child is expressing concerns about these symptoms, or if you observe them exhibiting these signs, try and start a dialog with them. Try not to be too confrontational about it, as your child may retract and hide their feelings. Concealing depression symptoms is another sign of clinical depression. Discuss your concerns with your child or teen supportively, not accusingly.
What if He or She Just Has the Blues?
If your child or teen is exhibiting some of these symptoms suddenly, or for a short term basis, they may just have a case of “the sads”. They may just need:
- Fresh air
- A change in nutrition choices
- A conversation with you that is calm and patient. Allow them the time to speak their feelings
- To distance them from video games, social media or the internet
- Space, understanding, and recognition that their feelings are important
There may be something happening at school, with relationships with friends or romantic interests that are causing “angst” or sadness. Try to help your child through what they are dealing with. If the symptoms persist, consider speaking with your family doctor about forms of treatment. There are also support resources at the school, either to “compare notes” on symptoms you are seeing, to get referrals to community programs, or talk to counsellors about options.
If you are noticing some of these warning signs of child depression, don’t despair. If you have been experiencing signs of sadness or stress yourself, your child or teen may be picking up on your emotional cues. Recognizing whether your son or daughter is suffering from a mood disorder, or just a temporary bout of the blues is important.
If your physician diagnoses your child as being mildly or deeply depressed, there are a number of pharmaceutical options which your doctor may recommend to treat their condition. Early detection often helps to diminish depression, and alternative approaches to medicine are often effective.
Other therapeutic options include:
- Discussions with a therapist, social worker or psychiatrist/psychologist
- Fitness programs
- Family sessions with a mediator
- Nutritional consultations
Regardless of the long term plan, starting with your family doctor is often the best first step. Other community resources like the CMHA, YMCA or peer groups might be a good next step. Your child’s future can be made drastically better if you open up a dialogue with them, help them feel safe, and work towards a mentally healthy future.