How to Help a Child Struggling with Depression
Depression can affect anyone of any age, and watching a child struggling with depression can be terrible as a parent. But in this article, we’ll show you how you can help.
Is your child struggling with depression?
They’re not alone. More than 1 in 20 adolescents in the U.S. will experience a major depressive episode. As parents, watching your children suffer in any way can be torture. You want to take the pain away and fix the problem fast.
Unfortunately, if your child is depressed, there isn’t a quick-fix and searching for a one-size-fits-all solution will leave you in the lurch. But there are ways you can get your child back on track. Here are some tips for helping your child with depression.
How to Tell If Your Child Is Struggling with Depression
First things first. Is your child truly depressed? There are some tell-tale symptoms that will help you determine if this is the case. It’s important to keep in mind that symptoms in children will be different from adults who are suffering.
With adults, we are more likely to see overwhelming sadness. However, children have more energy in general and their depression typically manifests as irritability. If you’re noticing your child is irritable and disinterested or bored with certain activities that used to excite them, this could be the first sign.
Be sure that these symptoms appear consistent for at least a couple of weeks. Other signs to watch for are a change in eating or sleeping habits, change in weight, and difficulty making decisions or concentrating during class or on homework.
Of course, the most obvious sign would be if your child shares with you any thoughts of suicide or death. But most of the other signs are subtle and can go relatively unnoticed if you’re not paying attention. Observe your child for a few weeks and notice their patterns, ask them questions about how they’re feeling and see if you can get them to share.
Once you’ve determined your child is suffering from depression, here’s what to do next.
It’s important for you to recognize that you won’t be able to help your child alone. You’ll need to get them the appropriate treatment and consult a doctor to know how best to help him or her. It will be important to educate both yourself and your child about what depression is; what causes it and what’s going on in their brain in terms of chemistry.
If you and your child can understand that it’s not their fault, that something is scientifically going on with them, it helps reduce blame and shame around the issue.
Before you fill a prescription, you’ll need to speak to a psychologist. Your child should enter routine counseling to see if the problem can be treated and remedied without medication. You’ll want to have them speaking to a therapist at least once a week, if not more, to get a handle on the problem and to have a professional monitor how your child is doing.
Don’t become discouraged if you have to try a few different therapists before the right one for your child clicks. It’s important to select the right therapist and you know your child better than anyone else.
For young children suffering, play therapy is an effective option while older children and teens would likely benefit from talk therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, like those available at the Naya Clinics.
The work doesn’t stop when the therapy session is over. It’s important to create a safe emotional environment for your child so the tools of therapy can be implemented at home. Your child doesn’t expect you to be a second therapist, but there are ways you can help.
Talk to your child. This may sound obvious but life is busy and making time to sit down and really talk to one another can get put on the back burner. Make a point to ask your child how they’re feeling, how their day was and what’s going on in their lives, especially at school.
In therapy, your child is hopefully learning to open up and become more vocal about their emotions. Help this work carry over into real life by gently urging your child to talk about how they’re feeling at home.
Other than talking, you can help make home a healing place by creating some routine. Make healthy meals and eat dinner together at least a few times a week. Try to make time in their schedule for play or exercise. When your child is active, serotonin and endorphins are released in the brain.
You can also try to help regulate their sleeping habits. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day creates a routine and actually helps your child feel more rested and energized throughout the day.
If your child is suffering from depression, it’s likely their grades have slipped or their teachers have noticed a change in behavior in the classroom. It’s important to loop in their teachers and school counselors to let them know what’s going on so they can help.
There are some things the school can do to help your child on their road to recovery, especially if it’s become obvious your child has trouble concentrating and staying focused in class. Ask for extended time on papers or long assignments and see if they can take tests and quizzes in a quieter room so they won’t be distracted.
While your child is undergoing treatment, it may be a wise idea to schedule a daily visit with the school counselor. Even if just for fifteen minutes, it can help your child reset during the day and allows staff to monitor their progress so they don’t slip through the cracks at school.
The most important thing to remember if your child is struggling with depression is to remain patient. It’s not going to be fixed overnight and they need your strength and understanding to guide them on what may be a long road to feeling better.
These tips above will help you navigate supporting your child’s battle in all aspects of their lives.
It’s important to be involved beyond the home and get them the help they need.
Want more advice? Don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog for more kid-related tips.