What is Childhood Depression?
Childhood depression is different from the normal "blues" and everyday emotions that occur as a child develops. Just because a child seems sad doesn't necessarily mean he or she has significant depression. If the sadness becomes persistent, or if disruptive behavior that interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork, or family life develops, it may indicate that he or she has a depressive illness. Keep in mind that while depression is a serious illness, it is also a treatable one.
How Can I Tell if My Child Is Depressed?
The symptoms of depression in children vary. It is often undiagnosed and untreated because they are passed off as normal emotional and psychological changes that occur during growth. Early medical studies focused on "masked" depression, where a child's depressed mood was evidenced by acting out or angry behavior. While this does occur, particularly in younger children, many children display sadness or low mood similar to adults who are depressed. The primary symptoms of depression revolve around sadness, a feeling of hopelessness, and mood changes.
Signs and symptoms of Depression in Children Include:
Not all children have all of these symptoms. In fact, most will display different symptoms at different times and in different settings. Although some children may continue to function reasonably well in structured environments, most kids with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in school and poor academic performance, or a change in appearance. Children may also begin using drugs or alcohol, especially if they are over age 12.
Although relatively rare in youths under 12, young children do attempt suicide -- and may do so impulsively when they are upset or angry. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are more likely to actually kill themselves when they make an attempt. Children with a family history of violence, alcohol abuse , or physical or sexual abuse are at greater risk for suicide, as are those with depressive symptoms.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is really just a form of stress. It can be experienced in many different ways — physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them. Anxiety mainly relates to worry about what might happen — worrying about things going wrong or feeling like you're in some kind of danger.
Anxiety is a natural human reaction, and it serves an important biological function: It's an alarm system that's activated whenever we perceive danger or a threat. When the body and mind react, we can feel physical sensations, like dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and sweaty or shaky hands and feet. These sensations — called the fight-flight response — are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that prepare the body to make a quick getaway or "flight" from danger.
The fight-flight response happens instantly. But it usually takes a few seconds longer for the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) to process the situation and evaluate whether the threat is real, and if so, how to handle it. When the cortex sends the all-clear signal, the fight-flight response is deactivated and the nervous system starts to calm down.
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. These feelings can range from a mild sense of uneasiness to full-blown panic (or anywhere in between), depending on the person and the situation.
It's natural for unfamiliar or challenging situations to prompt feelings of anxiety or nervousness in people of all ages. You may feel it when you have a big presentation at work, for example, or when life gets overly hectic.
Kids might feel it, too, in similar situations — when facing an important test or switching schools, for example. These experiences can trigger normal anxiety because they cause us to focus on the "what if's": What if I mess up? What if things don't go as I planned?
Some amount of anxiety is normal and can even be motivating. It helps us stay alert, focused, and ready to do our best. But anxiety that's too strong or happens a lot can become overwhelming. It can interfere with someone's ability to get things done and, in severe cases, can start taking over the good and enjoyable parts of life.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. That's partly because everyone experiences stress and worry. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms. But they all share one common trait — prolonged, intense anxiety that is out of proportion to the present situation and affects a person's daily life and happiness.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly or can build gradually and linger. Sometimes worry creates a sense of doom and foreboding that seems to come out of nowhere. Kids with anxiety problems may not even know what's causing the emotions, worries, and sensations they have.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
Although all kids experience anxiety in certain situations, most (even those who live through traumatic events) don't develop anxiety disorders. Those who do, however, will seem anxious and have one or more of the following signs:
These problems can affect a child's day-to-day functioning, especially when it comes to concentrating in school, sleeping, and eating. And it's common for kids to avoid talking about how they feel, because they're worried that others (especially their parents) might not understand. They may fear being judged or considered weak, scared, or "babyish." And although girls are more likely to express their anxiety, boys experience these feelings, too, and sometimes find it hard to talk about. This leads many kids to feel alone or misunderstood. The good news is that doctors and therapists today understand anxiety disorders better than ever before and, with treatment, can help kids feel better.