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Children Who are Depressed: How to help

As adults, it may be difficult to believe that a child's problems can seem large enough to become a real, diagnosable "clinical depression," but they can.

Here are some of the warning signs that a child may be suffering from depression:

  • You will probably notice changes in your child's behaviour that suggest a troubled and unhappy state of mind. A child who was active and involved may become quiet and withdrawn. Your child may start to complain about aches and pains, and may stop sleeping well. He may have a lack of energy, and may lose interest in food, or may suddenly be eating constantly. Excessive guilt and a preoccupation with death may be present. Each child's signs will differ.

  • Be aware of your child's self-image. Children who are depressed often say things that indicate that they don't like themselves very much. Has your child stopped seeing friends or doing things she previously enjoyed? You may start to notice that small things make your child burst into tears or get very angry. She may even run away from home. Talk to your child's school or daycare provider to find out if any one else has noticed changes in her behaviour and mood.

If you suspect that your young child may be depressed, it's important to encourage him to talk to you about how he is feeling and if he knows what's bothering him. Be understanding and sympathetic. Feelings of real depression are beyond his control, and can't be fixed just by telling him to cheer up. Let your child know that you are concerned, and that you would like to help him to feel less sad.

If you think your child might be depressed, do not hesitate to consult your child's physician to make sure there is no physical reason for the tiredness, aches and pains and low moods, and to obtain an accurate diagnosis and referral to an appropriate counsellor.

If you do find out that your child is indeed depressed, realize that when a child is depressed, everyone around suffers. It's hard on parents to cope with the needs of a depressed child. You may feel guilty, as if you somehow caused the depression. Should your child's depression go on for more than two or three weeks, or if it seems overwhelming to the child or to you, consider getting counselling for yourself, and your whole family, as well as your child.

It's important to be open with family members, school teachers and other caregivers about what's going on and about what kind of help your child needs to get through the depression. That way your child will be surrounded by sources of support and understanding.

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