Advice to Parents of Depressed Children | Children's National Health System
How to Help a Depressed Child
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the world today, even among children and teens. In fact, as many as one in 17 children and one in eight teens may have depression.Depression can be very serious and a child affected by it often needs a lot of help. By seeking professional help and treatment and using additional self-care techniques, you can help a depressed child.
Seeking Professional Help and Treatment
Recognizing the signs of depression in a child.Depression comes with a host of typical signs in any person. These symptoms can often manifest themselves differently in children. Noticing if your child has any signs of depression can help you more readily identify a potential problem and seek professional help in a timely manner. Your child may be depressed if he or she has the following signs:
- Being sad, irritable, tearful, or cranky most of the day
- Showing an inability to enjoy the things that he or she used to
- Showing significant changes in weight, either up or down
- Sleeping too little at night or too much during the day
- Wanting to be alone
- Lacking energy or feeling an inability to do even simple tasks
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Having trouble concentrating or making choices
- Having little or no care about the future
- Having aches or pains when nothing is wrong
- Thinking frequently about death or suicide
Schedule an appointment with a doctor.Depression is not something you can treat on your own. The best way to help your child is to get professional treatment.Call your child’s doctor and make an appointment. Let the office know what it’s for so that the staff can get your child in as soon as possible. Depression can be treated in more than 80% of the people who have it.
- Tell your child that you’re concerned about the way he or she has been feeling and that you’re taking him or her to the doctor. Let your child know that depression is normal and that seeing the doctor can help him or her feel much better. Make sure you tell your child to be honest when talking to the doctor so that he or she can get the best help available to overcome depression.
- Let the doctor know any symptoms you’ve noticed in your child and ask any questions you may have. Remember that when you’re answering questions to also give your child a chance to speak.
Get a referral to a mental health professional.Your child’s doctor may refer him or her to a mental health professional. These individuals can help your child manage his or her depression, especially if your child feels comfortable with the person. If a person is not a good fit with your child, try another professional. Ask your doctor which of the following mental health professionals might be right to help your child:
- Psychiatrist, which is a medical doctor who can diagnose and treat depression as well as prescribe medicine
- Psychologist, which is a health professional who can diagnose and treat depression but may not write prescriptions
- Licensed clinical social worker, which is an individual who has a degree in social work and is qualified to treat your child’s depression
Take anti-depressant medications.Treatment for depression in children is often a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Giving your child prescribed anti-depressants can help relieve the symptoms of his or depression.
- Be aware that the Food and Drug Administration has only approved two drugs for use in children. These are fluoxetine (Prozac) and escitalopram (Lexapro). Prozac is approved for children over the age of eight and Lexapro for children over 12. These medications may increase the risk of suicidal thinking or behavior in children and you should closely monitor your child if he or she is taking an anti-depressant.
- Keep in mind that it can take two to four weeks for antidepressants to begin working for your child. Use therapy and self-care to help your child during this period. Many doctors may have your child gradually stop taking the medication after six to 12 months.
- Make sure your child takes his or her medications as directed every day. This is one of the biggest ways you can help him or her with depression.
- Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist if your child is under 8 and suffering from depression.
Consider alternative treatments.Your child’s doctor may want to try alternative treatments if therapy, medication, and self-care are not working. From hospital stays to electroconvulsive therapy, these alternative treatments may help relieve your child’s depression.Some of the alternative treatments you may want to think about for your child are:
- A hospital stay or outpatient day treatment for your child if he or she is really struggling with depression.
- Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is a surgical procedure in which electrical currents are passed to the brain to improve brain function. Despite many misperceptions, it is safe for children and often has a high response rate, which means it can help a child with depression relatively quickly.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which can help those children who don’t respond to anti-depressants.For this procedure, a treatment coil is placed against the scalp to send a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells involved in mood regulation. Although doctors are still gathering evidence on the efficacy of TMS in children, it is safe and may help your child if other treatments aren’t working.
Supporting a Depressed Child at Home
Offer your child unconditional support.One of the cornerstones of helping a depressed child is unconditional love and support from his or her parents and family members. Remind your child that you are there to talk and help him or her in any way you can, even if what he or she says is unpleasant.
- Keep in mind that it is important to reinforce your statements about love and support by repeating them to your child often. Even if your child doesn’t believe them, saying them is important.
- Remind yourself that your child’s inactivity or inability to engage is not because of laziness, but a disease. This can help you be more understanding and supportive of his or her problems.
- Avoid telling your child to “snap out of it” at any time. No person would ever choose to be depressed and your child would likely “snap out of it” if he or she could.
Inform your child’s school.Teachers and other educational professionals are there to promote your child’s welfare. Keeping educational professionals in the loop about what your child is experiencing can ensure that they give your child a little extra love and support, too. Remember that educational professionals are also required to keep the information about your child’s depression confidential, so your child shouldn’t have to worry about other students or parents finding out.
- Let teachers, administrators, and schools nurses know about any problems at school that contribute to your child’s depression. Also let them know about any medication your child takes and side effects it may cause.
- Ask teachers to consider giving your child less homework or being more understanding if your child doesn’t finish his or her homework because of the depression.
Encourage daily activity or exercise.Regular activity can increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. This can help relieve the symptoms of depression and help your child relax.Encourage your child to do some type of activity every day or incorporate it into the family routine, which can also help to boost your child’s mood.
- Allow your child to do any physical or creative activities he or she enjoys. This could be going for walks, biking, swimming, or even jumping on a small trampoline. Creative activities such as painting or dancing can have similar anti-depressant effects.
- Tell your child you want to try yoga, tai chi, or qigong together. Some doctors and patients with depression have found these types of relaxing exercises particularly effective against the symptoms of the condition.
Feed your child healthy meals.Poor nutrition can exacerbate depression. Making sure that your child is getting three nutritious meals and two snacks every day can promote his or her overall well-being and help with the symptoms of depression.
- Focus on giving your child a variety of foods from the five food groups of fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy, and whole grains. In addition, choose foods with mood-enhancing folic acid such as asparagus. Foods like avocados are high in Vitamin B and can help relieve any stress that is contributing to your child’s depression.
- Consider cooking meals together with your child, which gives you some special one-on-one time.
Ensure your child isn’t using alcohol or drugs.Children who are depressed are more likely to use alcohol and drugs. Talk to your child openly about this and give him or her the support to stop using. You can also help by making sure that any alcohol or drugs you have in your home are locked up.
- Explain to your child that alcohol and drugs may make him or her feel better quickly, but will make the depression worse in the long run.
Reduce your child’s stress.Stress because of schoolwork, social situations, or chores can contribute significantly to a child’s depression. Reducing your child’s exposure to things that cause him or her stress may help relieve symptoms.
- Talk to teachers and others at school about reducing homework to help your child cope. Ask if switching classes is possible because of factors such as bullying.
- Be sure to make similar stress reduction changes at home, too. Give your child fewer or easier chores or help him or her break them up into manageable parts.
- Praise your child for doing things well or even just trying. This can do wonders in helping a child feel less stress.
Promote healthy sleep patterns.Every person needs enough rest to maintain his or her physical and mental health. This is especially true for children with depression.Make it a priority that your child gets nine to 11 hours of sleep every night, which may help reduce the symptoms of depression.
- Let your child take short naps of only 20 to 30 minutes, which can help him or her feel better.
Helping a Depressed Child at Work
Stay informed of local and laws and organizational policies.If you’re a teacher or childcare worker, it’s natural to want to help a child who is struggling with depression. However, how you can help may be governed by federal and local laws as well as organizational policies. Keeping yourself abreast of any laws and protocols related to providing depressed children with help can ensure that you assist the child in a way that doesn’t violate his or her rights. It also minimizes the risk of a lawsuit for you or the organization.
- Ask your school principal or other legal administrator what you are able to do. Make sure to inform the principal, school nurse, or counselor if you’re trying to help a depressed child. They may be unaware that the child is depressed and need to file for something such as an Individualized Educational Plan.
- Avoid telling anyone other than someone in authority about your suspicions or knowledge of the child’s depression. Keep in mind that depression is a medical condition and falls under medical privacy laws in most countries.
Let the child know you are willing to help.Even just telling a child who is depressed that you will help him or her can give comfort to get through the day. As far as you are able, tell the child that you are open to talk or will give him or her consideration when it comes to work, chores, or other activities and tasks.
- Assure the child that there is no pressure to talk or ask for help. Just let him or her know that your door is always open to listen to problems and give help where you can. For example, say, “I know you’re struggling, Sara. You can come to me and talk any time you like. I’m also handy at helping with homework if you need that or a quiet space to work.”
- Offer to allow the student to stop by and help you with something during the day. This gives him or her the opportunity to address any problems in a safe environment but also gives you a chance to bolster the child’s confidence with some positive feedback.
Stay patient and understanding.A depressed child may feel like the world is working against him or her and any little sign of impatience from another person may aggravate the depression. Reminding yourself that the child is depressed and needs a bit of a break can help you remain patient and understanding if he or she slips up occasionally.
- Take a deep breath if you feel like you’re going to scold the child. This can help relax you and the situation.
Provide constructive criticism along with two positive comments.When a child is depressed, he or she may focus on negative comments rather than on anything positive.That is why it is important to avoid making negative comments and to deliver constructive criticism in a positive way. If you have constructive criticism for this child, then make sure that you “sandwich” it between two positive comments.
- For example, “Riley, you’ve done such a great job with these problems. Do you think you could try one or two more? That would give you the chance to show the other kids your knowledge!”
Provide regular breaks.Depressed children can become easily overwhelmed and anxious in situations such as school or intramural activities. Giving the child regular breaks to rest and relax can help calm him or her and boost confidence.
- Allow the child to put his or her head on a desk in the back of the room. You can also let the child leave the classroom and go to the nurse if he or she asks. If you have assemblies, fire drills, or other activities that may make the depression worse, give the child a chance to take a break from them or go somewhere else.
- Give the child a colored card or something else to indicate he or she needs a break without drawing attention to him or herself. The child can put it on his or her desk, or even on yours.
Accommodate tasks to the child’s specific needs.Some children with depression will have Individualized Education Programs, but others may not. Make sure to follow the IEP if you have it—these are specifically tailored to the child’s condition. If the child doesn’t have an IEP, make appropriate accommodation to help the child. This can be a broad range of things such as:
- Seating the child in a place he or she is comfortable
- Calling on the child only when it’s a topic with which he or she is confident
- Giving the child an alternative location in which to take tests
- Giving them alternative homework and testing assignments
- Offering extra support when the child has missed school
QuestionI am a child and it is my parents and my brother making me depressed. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou could try and not be around them too much. Try talking to teachers at school and see if they can help. You could always try talking to your parents and brother and let them know how you feel. You might actual be being abused.Thanks!
QuestionI'm too afraid to tell my parents I'm depressed. What shall I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTalk to another trusted adult, such as a teacher, counselor, or clergyperson. You can also talk to a close friend who you think will give good advice. Remember, your parents love you and want the best for you, so maybe you should reconsider your decision to keep them in the dark about your depression. They may be able to help.Thanks!
QuestionI'm 12 and I'm pretty sure I have depression. It's all I think about. I think my mum would let me see a therapist, but I'm scared they'll say it's worse than I think and give me the wrong treatment.KateKatey GirlCommunity AnswerIt's a very good sign that you recognize there might be a problem, and it definitely isn't something you want to handle on your own! Talk to your mom and tell her how you're feeling, she can be very helpful. Counselors are very well trained and are your very best bet to help you learn why you're feeling down, and how to overcome it in a safe, healthy way. You're so young, you have lots of time to feel better and enjoy being happy before growing up!Thanks!
QuestionHow can I tell my parents if I feel like its cause I lost my mom and brother, and I'm not good at making friends?Community AnswerThe most important thing you can do is talk to someone. Chose an adult you feel you can trust like a parent, teacher, or school counselor who will have special training to assist people with feelings and situations like what you are dealing with.Thanks!
QuestionIf antidepressants increase suicidal thoughts, why should I give them to a child who already experiences them?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere is a small chance that antidepressants COULD increase suicidal thoughts. Most people do not experience this, otherwise no one would take them.Thanks!
QuestionI took a bunch of quizzes online, and they said I am moderately depressed. I want to tell my parents, but I'm afraid to. How should I start the conversation?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPersonality quizzes aren't the most reliable source for information, but if you are really concerned for your mental health, ask your parents to take you to a therapist.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if my parents don't believe anything is wrong with me, but I know?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you have tried talking to your parents and they don't understand how you feel try talking to your friends, teachers, trusted relatives, or school counselor.Thanks!
QuestionI feel useless and always want to be alone in a corner. Am I depressed?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou very well might be. Find someone you can talk to about how you've been feeling. Don't struggle with this in the loneliness of your own mind.Thanks!
QuestionWill my parents get mad at me if I tell them that I think I have depression?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey shouldn't get mad at you. However, they might instinctively react with disbelief, so be prepared to explain to them why exactly you feel this way.Thanks!
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