Crisis Hotline
(715) 845-4326 or
1-800-799-0122


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:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal/isolation
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection
  • Changes in appetite -- either increased or decreased
  • Changes in sleep -- sleeplessness or excessive sleep
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don't respond to treatment
  • Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 

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?Depression & Anxiety in Children

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.

Normal Anxiety

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

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.

Disorders that kids can get include:

  • Generalized anxiety. With this common anxiety disorder, children worry excessively about many things, such as school, the health or safety of family members, or the future in general. They may always think of the worst that could happen. Along with the worry and dread, kids may have physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or tiredness. Their worries might cause them to miss school or avoid social activities. With generalized anxiety, worries can feel like a burden, making life feel overwhelming or out of control.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) For a person with OCD, anxiety takes the form of obsessions (excessively preoccupying thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive actions to try to relieve anxiety).
  • Phobias. These are intense fears of specific things or situations that are not inherently dangerous, such as heights, dogs, or flying in an airplane.  These fears may seem unreasonable to adults, but are very real to children. Phobias usually cause people to avoid the things they fear.
  • Social phobia (social anxiety). This anxiety is triggered by social situations or speaking in front of others. A less common form called selective mutism causes some kids and teens to be too fearful to talk at all in certain situations.
  • Panic attacks. These episodes of anxiety can occur for no apparent reason. During a panic attack, a child typically has sudden and intense physical symptoms that can include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, or tingling feelings. Agoraphobia is an intense fear of panic attacks that causes a person to avoid going anywhere a panic attack could possibly occur.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) This type of anxiety disorder results from a traumatic past experience. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, fear, and avoidance of the traumatic event that caused the anxiety.

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:

  • excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end
  • trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
  • restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability

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.

 

What to Do If You Think Your Child
May Have Depression or Anxiety

Depression & Anxiety in Children

If you feel that your child is in immediate danger to him/herself, please seek help immediately. In Marathon, Lincoln and Langlade counties, immediate help is available through a Crisis Hotline by calling 1.800.799.0122 or 715.845.4326. You may also come directly to the Crisis Center located in Wausau at 1100 Lake View Drive, Wausau, WI 54403. The Crisis Center is operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For more information about North Central Health Care Crisis Services, please visit Crisis Services.

If you feel that your child may have depression or anxiety, please call North Central Health Care Outpatient Services and make an appointment to have your child meet with one of our experienced, professional counselors specialized in assisting children. Our team of referal coordinators, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and nurse practitioners work together to help you and your child experience the best outcomes. Outpatient mental health care helps people of all ages, both children and adults, providing care and treatment in a manner that is most appropriate for each person’s individual situation.

A provider directory is available here, which include areas of speciality for each provider in Wausau, Merrill, Antigo and Tomahawk.

Questions? Please contact us. Learn more about North Central Health Care Outpatient Services.