Broken families, peer relationships, a new sibling and events such as death can all cause serious problems for children. One of the most frequently seen psychological problems these days is depression. Our society often views depression as being something only adults can experience, but the truth is that depression is actually quite widespread in children. As the result of a series of different problems that might occur in their inner worlds, children can show signs of depression from a very early age. Families must be especially careful and sensitive to this potential problem if they have young children, as they have difficulty expressing themselves with words. There are a range of different behavioral tendencies that might emerge when a child is depressed and the child’s family must be sensitive to the presence of these tendencies in order to recognize when there might be a problem.
If a child has been experiencing psychological problems for a long period of time, there is a definite need for expert help. It is incorrect to assume that these problems will disappear on their own as the child grows older.
So, what are signs to look for?
First of all, a child experiencing depression might seem unhappy and restless. It is also likely that the child will show signs of aggression, worry, irritability or anger in their relations with family and friends. It is also likely that there will be some psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches, in addition to imbalances in eating and sleeping habits.
Children who are depressed might experience a range of problems with their families, school and social circles. Grades and general school performance may suffer at this point and the child might lose his or her desire to play with friends or be in social situations.
If a first-degree relative of the child has experienced depression, there is an increased likelihood that the child might also experience depression. However, aside from certain genetic factors, there is also a range of stress factors that can trigger depression in children. As mentioned above, this could include events such as the death of someone close, the divorce of the child’s parents, imbalances in peer relations, a new sibling in the family, moving to a new home, positions adopted by the family on a number of issues and so on.
*Ayşe Erge is a psychologist.
How should the family approach the child?
Families need to be prepared to approach a depressed child with sensitivity and the awareness that depression can cause a range of behavioral changes. Rather than punishing a child for their behavior, parents should try to be supportive during this difficult period.
In general, families should show more sensitivity in family relations and communications, like trying not to hold arguments or heated debates in front of the child.
It is very important to spend more time with a depressed child to make him or her feel valued and loved, simply playing with him or her often helps.
Getting help from a professional is essential and, as with any illness, depression is more easily treated the earlier it is identified.