Symptoms of depression can usually be broken into two types — behavioral and emotional. Having this distinction might help you organize your child's symptoms in a way that lets you communicate it easily to a professional. Deciphering what emotions your child is experiencing before the age of five is difficult at best because he does not have the verbal tools to label his emotions, so most of his complaints will be behavioral.
Before the age of three, there are a few problems to watch out for. Feeding problems are typical with children who have depression. With babies and small children, there is a failure to thrive, an inability to keep up with the changes in normal development. Things that should interest them don't. Tantrums, in the form of constant crying, are common.
Ages Three to Five
As children reach the ages of three to five, they do what is referred to as “acting out” as a means of communicating what is happening to them emotionally. Although it is not a total surprise that a once-loved book can quickly become boring, what you're looking for is a lack of interest across the board in most activities that a child of a certain age should enjoy.
Children who are quiet and reserved may become hyperactive, unable to control their excessive activity. An outgoing child may become shy or disinterested in being around other children. He will be resistant to new activities such as attending preschool or going to a party. Previously potty-trained children may begin to have accidents both during the day and night, or there is the chance that they become constipated. Often, a child will begin to experience a decrease in the ability to handle frustration.
Resist the urge to grab onto a couple of behaviors that seem abnormal for your child and automatically assume there is trouble brewing. These behaviors could be attributed to just about anything. Children find a way to talk when you least expect them to, so with some patience and a little time you should have your answer.
While some of these symptoms may seem normal for your child, if they are causing him significant discomfort, there is a problem.
Ages Six to 12
As children reach the ages six to 12, the behaviors become a bit more pronounced. The resistance to new activities seen earlier begins to extend to just about everything. A child will announce she doesn't want to go to school, and in fact, doesn't want to do anything that she used to enjoy.
She might complain of a tummy ache that ends up having no root cause. Some will develop a vague physical pain such as a hurt elbow or a pain in the leg. School performance may decline. Socially, a child will become withdrawn, avoiding contact with friends.
Unfortunately, even at these early ages, some suicidal gestures occur. They typically take on some form of self-destructive behavior such as scratching to the point of bleeding, cutting, or dangerous behaviors such as jumping from a roof.
Adolescents also become socially withdrawn from friends and family. They will experience a decline in their grades and performance. Those interested in sports or a particular school activity will suddenly announce they are quitting without offering much of a valid explanation. Many either begin to overeat or have a loss of appetite, and others will be preoccupied by how they look to the point of obsession.
Although teenagers are notorious for sleeping a lot, they may start sleeping even more. If they typically sleep from 10:00
Depressed teens often turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating what is happening to them. Others begin to make poor choices that get them into trouble with the legal system. The scariest behavior a teen might exhibit is an increasing fascination with anything related to death.
An artistic child who likes to write music may create songs about death and suicide. What they read or watch on television may change to more morbid topics. You may find notes written to friends about suicide or even a suicide note. Also watch for a teen that begins to give away his prized or meaningful possessions.