Rossella Fanelli, PhD
Childhood as a time of playfulness and pleasure does not preclude the possibility of young children being depressed. It is important for parents to be aware of the signs of clinical depression in young children since early interventions improve a child’s outcomes dramatically.
The trademark of a depressed child is a consistent difficulty experiencing joy when exposed to the pleasurable aspects of daily life. Depressed children are generally lacking in energy and enthusiasm. They often become withdrawn and are unable to concentrate. Sometimes they are irritable and sulky or even belligerent. If they are old enough to talk, they may refer to themselves as stupid and ugly, friendless, unloved and unlovable, worthless, or even hopeless. There are, however, some important age-related differences in the signs and symptoms of depression.
Depression may be reflected in feeding problems, failure to thrive that has no identifiable physical cause, tantrums, lack of playfulness, apathy, and less expression of positive feelings in general.
May be accident-prone, subject to phobias and exaggerated fears, likely to exhibit delays or regression in important developmental milestones such as toilet training, and inclined to apologize excessively for minor mistakes and problems such as spilling food or forgetting to put away toys.
Expresses vague physical complaints, aggressive behavior, clinging to parents, and avoidance of new people and challenges.
When these signs and symptoms are present, particularly if the symptoms are severe and/or persist most of the time for a month or more, it is important to have the child evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in children. Early diagnosis and treatment can shorten depressive episodes, help to avoid future episodes, and prevent potentially dangerous or disastrous results such as school failure, self-injury, or suicide.
What Parents Can Do
Be patient. This won't turn around overnight. If you feel like you need help coping with the situation, reach out to others and try to find support be it with your family, church or professional therapy.
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