Symptoms of Depression - Bipolar Symptoms In Children
When we hear the word "depression" we think of a mental health condition affecting adults and sometimes teenagers, but the idea of a depressed young child probably doesn't come to mind. While it's still rare, depression among kids is on the increase (although the rise in diagnoses may be due to increasing awareness among parents, teachers and doctors of mental health problems affecting kids). Just as we don't know exactly what causes depression in adults, the precise reasons for depression in children are also not clear. Young children may become depressed due to their circumstances (suffering abuse, divorce in the family, poor educational performance, or living with a disability) or because they have a chemical imbalance in the brain. Depression is often attributed to more than one possible cause.
Diagnosing Childhood Depression
Childhood depression can be hard to recognize and treat, because young kids may not be capable of articulating the symptoms of their depression. Children are individuals - therefore a situation that leaves one child depressed may leave her siblings unfazed. So just what are the depression symptoms parents should look out for in kids?
Signs And Symptoms Of Depression In Children
The basic characteristic of depression in children is persistent sadness (over the course of many weeks or months), but in the case of toddlers and older children, this sadness may manifest itself differently than in adults. Toddler depression symptoms include ongoing tearfulness, anxiety and panic attacks, constant irritability, worry or turmoil, a loss of interest in normal activities, play and toys, and a general inability to take pleasure in the things that used to make a child giggle and laugh.
Other mental and physical childhood depression symptoms, which can affect kids of any age through to adulthood, include:
- Problems concentrating, organizing thoughts, and planning or completing tasks (like homework)
- A pessimistic perspective on almost everything he or she talks about
- Low self esteem - feeling worthless, guilty, hopeless
- Feeling isolated and spending increasing amounts of time alone (ceasing to take part in social activities and withdrawing from playmates or friends)
- Suicidal thoughts (in extreme cases)
- Loss of appetite and decrease in weight, or on the reverse side, overeating and gaining weight
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Appearing "sluggish" or slow in everything he or she does or says
- Agitation and restlessness
- Hyperactivity - engaging obsessively in one particular activity
Bipolar Symptoms In Children
Bipolar depression is also known as manic depression. In both children and adults, this form of depression is associated with periods of elation and apparent extreme happiness, with periods of extremely low and negative feelings, often in combination with lots of tears and bad behavior. Bipolar kids may appear to be "on top of the world" and overjoyed by seemingly regular events, and then nosedive into temper tantrums, tears and screaming for almost no reason at all. These children often have problems adapting to the school environment and forming social relationships with other kids and indeed the adults around them.
The severity of bipolar depression symptoms varies from patient to patient, and the condition can often be managed quite successfully with the right treatment and support.
Treatment Of Childhood Depression
Doctors are generally reluctant to prescribe anti-depressant or mood altering medications to young kids whose brains are still developing. Therefore the first preference when treating depressed or bipolar children is to try psychotherapy and behavioral therapies. Sometimes the whole family needs support from mental health experts to manage the child's depression symptoms and cope with their own feelings and emotions in this difficult situation. In some cases, particular when a child's depression is causing violent thoughts or behavior, and the child is thought to be a possible threat to herself or others (this is very rare), there is no option but to turn to medication.
Effects Of Depression On The Family
Parents of a depressed child are likely to have a lot of guilt. They wonder what they've done wrong and blame themselves for the situation. It's not uncommon to find parents of depressed kids on anti-depressants themselves, as they struggle to cope with daily life. Siblings of the depressed child may be frustrated and resentful of the lengths to which the whole family has to go to support the child who's depressed. That's why a whole-family approach to treatment and therapy is often required.
Effects Of Postpartum Depression On Children
Postpartum depression affects mothers who've just given birth, but can have an indirect impact on the mental health of children too. While a woman is receiving treatment for postpartum depression, it's important that the behavior and feelings of all her children, and indeed her partner, are kept under observation, and the option of therapy should be available to them too.