KIDS GET SAD OFTEN. They cry, cling and act out when they’re unhappy. It’s perfectly normal for kids to experience emotional ups and downs, and some kids even go through phases (a few days here and there) where they seem more worried than usual or less happy than you might expect. Growing up is hard work, and no child is happy every moment of every day.
Childhood depression, on the other hand, is a serious mental health condition that is often overlooked because childhood is largely characterized by emotional shifts and evolving friendships. We expect kids to experience some conflict with friends and other struggles as they learn and grow. On the other hand, parents are not conditioned to look for signs of a major depressive episode in young children. But with the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsing a universal depression screening for adolescents ages 12 and up, it’s time to raise awareness about childhood depression.
According to data compiled by the Child Mind Institute,14 percent of children are diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder and 22 percent of American youth will have a diagnosable mental illness with “serious impairment” before age 18.
One challenge with diagnosing depression in children is that the symptoms vary. Prepubescent children don’t necessarily exhibit the same symptoms as adolescents and adults. They cry easily and often. They don’t sleep alone at night. They act out and have low frustration tolerance. They’re constantly irritable. In isolation, any of these symptoms is indicative of a perfectly average day for a child. So spotting childhood depression is difficult, but here are some things to keep in mind: