Many think of depression as a condition that affects us in adulthood, but according to the charity Young Minds, as many as 850,000 children aged between five and 16 in Britain have a diagnosable, mental disorder, with 80,000 suffering from severe depression.
It could be the break-up of the family unit, bereavement, exam stress or bullying that gives rise to anxiety and depression, so if you are worried about your own youngsters, here are the signs to look out for, and what to do if you think there may be a problem.
Signs and symptoms
The behaviours and physical symptoms of depression in children are similar to those in adults, but it is easy, especially if you have teenagers in the house, to dismiss them as the normal ups and downs of growing up.
A low mood or unhappiness is one of the obvious signs to look out for, but watch also for a lack of concentration, irritability, a lack of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed, or increasing isolation from friends and social activities. If their performance at school dips reasonably suddenly, it could also be a signal, and frequently trying to avoid school altogether could point to bullying being at the root of the problem.
Physical symptoms may include a lack of energy, a dramatic change in appetite in either direction, trouble sleeping, and complaints of aches and pains. If your child displays four or more of these symptoms for a prolonged period (at least two weeks), or severely enough that it impacts their day-to-day life, it could be time to seek help.
What to do
For a parent or care-giver, it can be difficult to know how to approach a child who they suspect is depressed, but in the first instance, it is worth talking to them to try to find out what is troubling them. If they open up, it is important to listen and understand, no matter how small the issue may seem to you as an adult. Don't try to solve the problem immediately. Instead, talk to your child about possible solutions, making a list of the problems and discussing what you or they can do about it. Bullying or abuse, whether cyber or otherwise, requires action, and it may be necessary to discuss the situation with the appropriate authorities.
Also try to re-engage your child with a pastime they previously enjoyed, whether that be meeting up with friends, hobbies, or sports. If you are still worried, do look for help. Your GP may be able to recommend further treatment, including counselling for young people or families, or other talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy.
There are also resources available online for young people struggling to cope and for worried parents. Young Minds offers free advice and support for both children and parents, and information on how and where to seek further help.
Does your child suffer from depression? What advice would you give to others worried about their own kids? Leave your comments below...