Clinical depression is a psychopathological problem that requires psychotherapy.
We generally think of childhood as one of the happiest stages of life. Of eternal summers, with hardly any worries and with all the time ahead to enjoy it with friends and games. But sadly, this is not always the case.
In some cases because the child has had to grow up in a complicated context. Other times we find situations of children and adolescents who, having many resources at hand, become depressed for no apparent reason.
The importance of detecting the onset of depression early
Clinical depression is a psychopathological problem that requires psychotherapy. It is different from when we go through a stage of decay. Sadness is an unproblematic and usually adaptive emotion. Epidemiological studies report a prevalence of depressive disorders in childhood of more than 3%, with 12% of Spanish boys and girls presenting some type of depressive symptom.
There are many advantages if it is detected as soon as possible if depression stalks our children. Without the need for us as parents to fall into alarmism, the truth is that acting in the presence of the first signs is positive so that the problem does not get worse. In this way, we avoid that the child suffers more, for a longer time and that its reversal is complicated.
It is much more complex to get a depressed child out of this apparent “well” than to attend to moderate symptoms, such as common self-esteem problems in childhood and adolescence or mild feelings of low mood.
Warning signs in child behavior
To do this, there are some red flags that we can observe when our children are depressed. If we notice that you present any of these symptoms, we should turn on the alarm light: do you seem sad? Does it seem that you enjoy your activities less? Have you given up any of your hobbies? These are the three main indicators that you may be experiencing an emotional state of sadness and anhedonia, the main symptoms of depression.
In addition, in children, it must be borne in mind that the symptoms of depression may present peculiarities that do not occur in adults. The depressed mood may not be as visible and signs of irritability or behavioral problems may be seen instead. They can be a form of expression of a negative emotional state that they do not identify as an adult would.
The low-spirited child is more easily frustrated and hyper-reactive to negative stimuli. When we are depressed, many normal situations are experienced as negative: doing homework, socializing, going to class, doing extracurricular activities, etc.
On the other hand, a great majority of children who come to the consultation with depression have manifested somatic complaints: very often they had a headache or stomach pain.
After the pertinent physical examinations, a medical cause is ruled out and they are usually referred to mental health services. Somatizing is a common way of expressing emotional problems, and in children, it is very common.
Why could depression appear in childhood?
Depression can be explained as a mismatch between the punishments and rewards that life provides. When that balance is unbalanced and aversive events weigh more, the normal thing is that the mood is affected and one tends to avoid everything that makes us feel bad.
In the long term, the situation becomes chronic because this avoidance further distances the child from the possibility of obtaining rewards in life. They are probably thinking of children (adults too) who have everything they need and yet are depressed.
This is because access to these vital enhancers is sometimes not guaranteed even in the environment. Also because we tend to get satiated, so every reinforcer can lose its potential and we need new reinforcements. That is, there may be a lack of positive reinforcers, they may no longer be effective, or the child may have difficulty accessing them.
Despite all that has been discussed, we must not forget that depression can also be a consequence of other problems that children experience in their social or school environment. After all, they are still aversive situations that they have not learned to handle.
How to act on it
The first recommendation after suspecting that our son or daughter may have depression is to ask ourselves if he may be living a situation that he does not know how to handle and that is making him suffer.
Sometimes there are direct causes in the form of aversive environments. For example, adjusting to a new school, facing a problem with friends, being a victim of bullying, or going through complicated grief that, although not properly depression, must also be addressed. Observing some of the signs that we have discussed here can also give clues to discriminate.
We think that it is better to be cautious and finally it is not so serious than to let a problem get worse. That is why we recommend going to a child mental health professional if you have any questions.
Secondly, we suggest that we remain observant and attentive to its evolution to see if it is something temporary or if it requires attention. Finally, it is advisable to keep the communication channels with the child very open so that he can express any concern.
Fortunately, it is increasingly common to find ourselves in consultations with minors who have asked their parents to see a psychologist. This is a very good sign. Although parents are the ones who know their children best and are usually able to detect when they are having a bad time.
Trust should be kept open at all times so that any problem that may be worrying your child, even feeling sad without knowing why, can be open to dialogue and, therefore, we can find a solution.