Recognizing Childhood Depression and Anxiety
Parents often mistake depression in children for moodiness.
Childhood Depression, Childhood Anxiety continued...
In fact, kids who have anxiety as children are more likely to
have teen depression. About half of
depressed teens had a childhood anxiety
disorder. And 85% of teens who have both anxiety disorders and depression had
their anxiety disorder first.
"So anxiety in children is serious, and we tend to minimize
it," Koplewicz says. "Anxiety is probably toxic to the brain. We tend
to think it is all within the normal range of childhood behavior, and it is
Childhood anxiety disorders are persistent symptoms that center
on a single theme. They cause children a great deal of distress and disrupt
their daily lives. These disorders fall into three categories:
anxiety. The most common childhood anxiety disorder is when a
child fears there is a threat to his family. There's a deep-seated fear that
something bad is going to happen to one of the family members -- or to the
child. Being apart from their family is scary to these kids. They may get very
real headaches, stomachaches, or diarrhea on school days -- but
the pain comes from their brains,
not their bowels.
- Social phobia.
These kids are extremely uncomfortable with the social aspects of school. They
often become "socially mute." They'll talk with their father or mother
or sister, but not with anyone outside the home. Often they refuse to go to
- Generalized anxiety
disorder. These kids worry excessively about the future.
"They worry about how they will do in college, even though they're in third
grade," Koplewicz says. "You ask, 'How did you do in soccer?' 'Two
goals,' they'll answer. 'That's good,' you say. 'Yeah, they say, but I'm
worried about the spelling test tomorrow.'"
"Hoping it is a phase, hoping the child will grow out of
it, is a very big mistake," Koplewicz says. "All these disorders cause
distress and dysfunction. It makes people feel hopeless. And hopelessness is
what makes people want to hurt themselves. It isn't depression, it is
Signs Your Child Is Depressed
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent
Psychiatry, any of these symptoms may mean your child is depressed:
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness, and/or crying
- Decreased interest in activities or inability to enjoy previously favorite
- Persistent boredom; low energy. "The hallmark of depression is this
inability to have joy," Dolgan says. "There's this low energy, this
shutting away, shutting down."
- Social isolation, poor communication. "A child given the opportunity to
play with friends who prefers to be alone" may be depressed, Dolgan
- Low self-esteem and guilt. "The kids feel they're not good or not worth
very much," Dolgan says. "I often ask, 'Are you important to somebody?'
Depressed kids say no."
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
- Difficulty with relationships
- Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and
stomachaches. "A lot of these kids have physical illnesses for no real
cause, especially stomachaches and headaches," Dolgan says.
- Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school.
- Poor concentration
- A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
- Talk of or efforts to run away from home
- Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive