Life Happens: Depression Can Be Hard to Spot in Children

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By Amanda Percival
Edmond Family Counseling Staff Therapist

There are some words that individuals use in regard to mental health that are used to communicate a wide range of symptoms. “Depression” is just one of those words. I frequently have clients that say they are depressed. Or on the flip side, I may have a client that vehemently denies being depressed. Usually my response to this is, “Explain to me what you mean by the word depression”. I am looking for my client to describe to me their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Without this further information, it is difficult for me to agree or disagree with their determination.

Depression is one mental health condition that has a wide range of symptoms and severity. While a deep sadness over a loss of a loved one is difficult, it may not be depression. Sadness is a normal reaction to loss. However, when this sadness is sustained for a period of time and begins to affect our ability to function in our daily roles, it may be time to be assessed. Many mental health conditions are the extreme of a normal reaction to an event or experience.

What does depression look like? What does a depressed individual look like? The answers to these questions can be as different as we are as individuals. Some of the traditional signs that come to mind for many of us are sadness, tiredness, social withdrawal, crying, loss of motivation, sleeplessness, hopelessness, and a lack of personal grooming. While there can be many other signs, these are some of the more common.
But what about children or adolescents? While younger persons can exhibit the same signs as adults, depression may present differently. Children may become angry, act out behaviorally, have a more difficult time concentrating, or have an “attitude”.

Couple these signs with the normal changes that children go through as they progress from teen years to adulthood, and there is no wonder it can be hard to decipher the difference between a kid that is depressed and a kid with a behavioral issue. It can even take considerable time for a trained therapist to navigate through the complicated emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to determine a proper diagnosis.

Perhaps the most important aspect of determining if you or someone you know is experiencing depression is to have an honest and open dialog. Ask the person what they are feeling and what they are thinking about. This may be the only way to determine if that child is having a hard time with focus at school due to depression or ADHD. Are they socially withdrawn due to poor social skills or depression? It is also helpful to seek a professional evaluation from someone trained to screen and evaluate for depression.

I challenge you to view depression as more than just a sad person crying. While this can be an accurate portrayal, it is not the only portrayal. Depression is a term that has many faces and manifestations. Remember to keep your eyes and mind open so you don’t miss it.

Edmond Family Counseling is here to provide the community with affordable, accessible mental health care. Please visit our website, http://www.edmondfamily.org to find more information or call 405-341-3554.

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