Signs of Depression: What to Look for and How to Help
Signs of Depression: What to Look for and How to Help
This year had been HARD. Just plain and simple, HARD. The COVID pandemic has kept us inside for months, and with canceled vacations, clubs, sports events, distancing from friends and family, it can feel pretty isolating! In addition, our children are doing school from home where they are missing interactions from their peers. All of this change and isolation can make it difficult for kids to stay positive, and they can get stuck in a negative mood. Depression typically starts to show in adolescence; however, it can be observed in younger children, especially during this time. Understanding signs of depression can be vital in supporting our kids. Thankfully, the Child Mind Institute also created a list of signs for depression, ways to engage kids when they feel sad/depressed, and when to seek treatment.
Signs of depression:
- Unusual sadness or irritability- if feeling this one day but they’re feeling okay the next day, it’s not too much of concern; however, if it persists, it could be something to watch for.
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed- this one can be tricky as children may satiate on activities during this time of the pandemic since they’ve been stuck at home for several months.
- Changes in weight (increased weight or weight loss)- not typical of your child’s growth.
- Changes in sleep patterns- even after using other strategies to help. With increased online schooling, our kids are getting WAY more blue light exposure than any of us have ever imagined/experienced, making it difficult for their brains to make melatonin (the hormone that helps the body’s sleep cycle). Ensuring a break of screen time before bedtime can help wind the body down to help kids have a better sleep.
- Feeling sluggish- not getting out of bed as easily or moving slowly; an unusual lack of energy.
- Negative self-talk- saying things like, “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” or “No one wants to be my friend.” For helpful tips on responding to these, check out our other blog post, “Responding to Negative Self-Talk.
- Feelings of worthlessness/hopelessness- feeling like they are useless, lack hope for the future, or feel like they don’t have value in the world.
- Thoughts of or attempts at suicide- it’s important to make sure that anything that can be used to harm, such as knives, guns, razors, prescriptions, etc., are all locked up and out of reach from children. If your child is ever in an emergency situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), call a crisis line (King County Crisis Line 206-461-3222), or bring them to a nearby hospital.
Ways to engage with your child if you suspect depression:
- Stay active- encourage kids to engage in activities that make them feel happy, something that gives them a sense of accomplishment. Keeping the body moving by going for a walk, a jog, jumping on a trampoline, or riding a bike can help increase endorphins (a chemical in the brain/nervous system that triggers positive feelings in the body).
- Keep a sense of perspective- kids who might be experiencing depressive symptoms may focus more on negative perspectives or have “thinking errors,” such as overgeneralizing, catastrophizing (making something a bigger deal than it is), black & white thinking, or jumping to conclusions.
- Tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity- these are uncertain times, and we cannot tell our kids when this will end, and they can go back to their “normal lives.” Model to them that uncertainty can be tolerated by showing them your confidence in them to manage it. Using mindfulness practices and discussing things that are within their control vs. out of their control can help them focus on what they can do rather than wish to control something out of their control.
- Challenge negative thoughts- often, these thoughts are unrealistic, increasing depressive symptoms and feelings of being overwhelmed. Some absolute words that are usually included are “everyone,” “always,” “never,” and “every time.” For example, your child might think, “I’ll never get to see my friends.” But actually, there will be a time to see them again, so helping kids think of ways to stay connected with friends could be a way to challenge these negative thoughts.
- Make plans and goals- work with kids to plan something you think they might enjoy. Sometimes kids need the extra push to engage in activities they like when feeling depressed. Then, make it a goal to continue to engage in these activities a certain amount of time each week. These activities could include Zoom meetings with friends, riding their bikes, playing a board game with a family member, etc.
- Reflect on days- encourage kids to reflect on their days by using highs and lows, or roses and thorns, to open up communication about how they are feeling. This can help kids feel that they are being heard and listened to, leading them to tell you more about their thoughts and feelings in the future.
How/when to seek treatment:
If your child shows some signs of concern one day but bounces back the next, that is pretty common, especially during this pandemic. Parents should look for whether these symptoms persist and interfere with everyday life of schoolwork, family relationships, their interests, and social interactions. If your child continues to show signs of depression for over 2 weeks, contact your child’s doctor/pediatrician to see if regular therapy appointments may be necessary.
Allie can be reached at CORT@i-can.center.