Kids and teens are irritable, they’re unpredictable, they’re overly emotional. And that’s all normal—for the most part. But what’s tricky is that these can also serve as signs of depression. According to new research conducted at the University of Liverpool and University College London, a quarter of girls and one in 10 boys are depressed at the age of 14. And odds are, they don’t even realize that they’re suffering from a mental illness. So how can you tell if your child, your kid-brother, your niece is going through the normal adolescent phases or if they’re instead developing a very serious disorder? And if they are suffering from a depressive disorder, how can you help them? First, educate yourself on all of the signs and symptoms of depression. Second, be proactive—learn how to help your child cope with and treat their mental illness.
Depression can’t be simply defined or illustrated. It may have its hold on a happy child running around on the playground, or it might be the girl that stayed home “sick” yesterday. It can be anyone. But there are common symptoms that just might help you determine whether your loved one is depressed. Here’s what you should watch out for:
- A sudden disinterest in daily activities, like going to school or soccer practice.
- They appear to be sad or depressed most of the day, nearly every day.
- Difficulty sleeping at night no matter how tired they feel.
- A change in appetite, such as they eat way more or way less than before.
- He or she expresses feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
- The inability to concentrate and think in class.
- A drop in grades, as a result of loss in concentration or motivation.
- Feelings of fatigue nearly every single day.
If you notice that your loved one is displaying more than a few of the aforementioned symptoms, it might be time to take action. But you must remember the delicacy of the situation: they might not realize, acknowledge, or understand their mental illness. That means they’ll need your support now more than ever. Here’s how you can help them through this confusing time, as well as manage their depression:
1. Be informative, but sensitive.
It’s important to talk to them about their signs of depression. But it’s just as important not to overload them with information, which can leave them feeling more confused and overall, worse. So express your concern for them, but also respect their feelings and understand if they turn away from the conversation.
2. Highlight positivity.
Help them out of the rut that they’re in. While feeling upset or hopeless is characteristic of depressive disorders, that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of being happy. It just might take a little more effort. So try to boost their spirits in any way that you can: write uplifting quotes on sticky notes around the house, make their favorite breakfast before school, tell them you love them day-in and day-out.
3. Don’t treat them like they’re abnormal.
Kids like to be normal. They don’t want to be differentiated because of their smarts, because of their looks, and certainly not because of a mental illness like depression. So while you may feel inclined to walk on eggshells around them, don’t—do your best to treat them like normal kids. Yell at your daughter when she doesn’t do her chores, roughhouse with your nephew, bicker like normal siblings do.
4. Introduce them to the idea of treatment.
Some people are eager to receive treatment, while others are more hesitant or even completely against the idea. Either way, they need to understand what treatment options are out there for them. Because regardless of if they’re open or closed to getting help, they at least deserve to know about the options out there. And more often than not, they’ll revisit the idea and hopefully eventually comply.
5. Simply be there.
The best thing you can do for your loved one suffering with depression, is be there. If they need someone to talk to, be that listening ear. If they need someone to cry to, be that open lap. Whatever they need, meet it. Knowing that they have an undying, devoted support system will go such a long way and make this journey a much easier one.