On National Depression Screening Day, October 8
National Crisis Group Offers 10 Tips on Spotting Depression in Children
Between 17 and 20 million Americans are
affected by depression each year, but even as thousands of sites across
the nation are gearing up to screen people and educate them about the
condition on National Depression Screening Day (October 8), experts are
warning America not to forget a largely overlooked part of our
In the face of the highly publicized pressures kids face today and a
doubling of the suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds in just 10
years, children’s experts are warning that it is time to take
depression in children seriously.
“Many people don’t expect that children, especially very young ones –
five, six, or seven years old – can be depressed,” says Dr. Herbert
Mandell, medical director of the 127-year-old national children’s
crisis charity KidsPeace and the KidsPeace Children’s Hospital in
Orefield, Pennsylvania. “In addition, people rarely spot depression in
children because kids often don’t show all the same, more familiar
signs and symptoms we see in adolescents and adults.”
To help parents, teachers, and others, KidsPeace has put together ten
tips on some of the more commonly seen signs of depression in children:
These tips, which are also available at www.kidspeace.org , include:
1. DEPRESSED CHILDREN DON’T ALWAYS “LOOK” DEPRESSED
One of the problems with identifying depression in young children is that they
don’t always show depression in the way older people do. Instead of looking
visibly “sad” and “depressed,” as adolescents and adults often do, young children
sometimes show little sign outwardly, but will instead manifest it behaviorally.
Any new pattern of angry outbursts, disciplinary problems in school, and aggressive or
negative behavior, including looking or acting bored, especially if kids don’t have a past
history of such behaviors, calls for closer attention.
2. SLEEP CHANGES.
In adults, this may be trouble sleeping. In children and younger teens, there may
be an overabundance of sleep, withdrawing and sleeping after school, or refusing
to get out of bed. In older adolescents, you’re more likely to see patterns of
trouble falling asleep and early morning awakening.
3. APPETITE CHANGES.
Significant weight loss or gain (as much as 25 pounds) one way or the
other in a few months. Although it can vary, it is typical of older
teens to lose weight, while younger children and young teens may gain
4. IRREGULARITY OF BOWEL MOVEMENTS.
Withholding or accidents in children normally old enough to control their bowel movements.
5. SCHOOL PROBLEMS.
Sudden negative changes in youngsters’ interest or performance,
including a drop in grades, disciplinary problems, lack of completing
6. EXTENDED NEGATIVE REACTION TO CRISES.
A reaction more severe and longer than would normally be expected
following a death, divorce, a move to a new school, etc. Typically,
children can adapt to these stressors within several weeks to, in the
case of a death, up to a year.
7. LOSS OF INTEREST IN OLD PLEASURES.
The child loses interest and pleasure in activities that were previously a source of
8. CHANGE OF FRIENDS AND SOCIAL BEHAVIOR
The child gives up old friends and there may be a shift in the type of
friends with whom the child spends time to a group perceived as less
desirable by parents.
9. EXPRESSING A SENSE OF HOPELESSNESS.
Listen well to children when they express a sense of hopelessness. Take
seriously young children and teens if they verbalize that they have no
hope for the future. Expressing feelings of hopelessness may precede a
10. PHYSICAL COMPLAINTS.
Children may complain of stomachaches or headaches. These complaints
may be accompanied by a withdrawal from typical activities, social
life, and a refusal to go to school. These complaints are cause for
concern and should be explored.
Older children and adolescents tend to be more similar to adults when
depressed, with symptoms that are more familiar to the general public:
Withdrawal, fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration,, greater
interest in morbid themes, and loss of interest in good hygiene, along
with signs listed above.
“It is not unusual for adolescents to go through periods of being sad
or down,” says KidsPeace President & CEO William Isemann. “In fact,
it is pretty normal. However, it is important to realize that
depression is serious, and some of these symptoms you may think are
depression may be signs of other issues, including medical problems.”
How to Take Action
When symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, or if there is
more than one, it is time to take action. Check the signs of childhood
depression at www.kidspeace.org , talk to your family doctor and get
help. Be sure to touch base with your child’s school to share
information, as well. Best of all, to make sure you are protecting your
children, talk to your kids on an ongoing basis so that you know what
is normal for your kids and what is not. If you suspect a problem, you
can find a National Depression Screening Day center near you by going
to the website www.mentalhealthscreening.org .
A resource for kids facing depression and other issues: TeenCentral.Net
One free resource to help children themselves is an innovative website,
TeenCentral.Net, created by KidsPeace with the help and support of the
nation’s leading child experts at Harvard and Brown. TeenCentral.Net
gives kids clinically screened help and advice, assisting kids to
identify and work through problems before they become overwhelming.
National Depression Screening Day
National Depression Screening Day is held each year and is designed to
call attention to the illnesses of depression on a national level. The
week helps educate the public about symptoms and effective treatment,
offers individuals the opportunity to be screened for the disorders,
and can help connect those in need of treatment to the mental health
care system. For a site near you, go to www.mentalhealthscreening.org .
KidsPeace is a 127-year-old national charity dedicated to giving help,
hope and healing to America’s children facing crisis. Founded in
Bethlehem, Pa., this organization directly helps thousands of children
a day at more than 50 centers around the country to overcome the crises
of growing up. KidsPeace helps millions more each year through
educational outreach and awareness programs designed to help America’s
kids and parents anticipate, intervene in and master crises that can
affect any child – from disasters and personal traumas to family issues
and neglect to life-threatening depression, eating disorders, and the
many stresses of modern life. KidsPeace recently won a Gold Seal of
Approval from the Joint Commission, was named “The Outstanding
Organization” of its kind in the country by the American Association of
Psychiatric Services for Children, and was called “a prototype of what
we need for all children everywhere” by the late, nationally renowned
child and family expert, Dr. Lee Salk.