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Recognizing Childhood Depression and Anxiety

Parents often mistake depression in children for moodiness.
(continued)

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 not."

 

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:

 

  • Separation 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 school.
  • 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 hopelessness."

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
  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased interest in activities or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities.
  • 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 says.
  • 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 behavior
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