Irritable and angry, socially withdrawn, continuous sadness and hopelessness, extremely sensitive to rejection, suddenly has increased or decreased appetite, sleepless or sleeping excessively, having bouts of vocal outbursts, has low energy and fatigue – your usually cheerful child is suddenly showing distressing behavior. And, NO, he can’t be depressed. He is just a child after all.

Most parents find it easier to deny that their child has depression and defer seeking professional help due to the social stigma associated with mental illnesses. Warning signs such as loss of interest in school, poor academic performance, drug or alcohol use, or change in appearance are usually attributed to peer pressure or wayward friends. However, it is crucial for parents to understand that depression will have future effects on their child until adulthood. It is, thus, imperative that they realize how important treatment is if they want their child to grow physically and emotionally healthy.

Life events, environment, family history, genetic vulnerability, physical health and biochemical disturbance are among the many factors that can cause depression in children. Depression is also linked to genes as those with a family history of depression are more likely to suffer from depression also. Chaotic or conflicted environments also contribute to depressive moods which may lead to substance abuse.

There are no specific medical or psychological tests that can clearly diagnose depression. Personal information from the child, family members, friends, teachers and classmates are used in conjunction with tools like questionnaires to determine whether the symptoms manifested are consistent and whether there is a marked change from the child’s previous behavior. If depression is indeed confirmed, parents would be advised to take their child to a mental health care professional.

If there is even a tiny hint that your child is depressed, do keep the communication lines open. Take time to listen to his concerns and try your utmost to discern the root of his depression. Try to avoid telling him what to do. Instead, guide him in making wise decisions and build up his self-esteem. In disciplining, use positive reinforcement of good behavior rather than shame and punishment. If you are still unable to reach your child, do seek professional help to avert the condition from worsening.