Helping children find the light when darkness looms
Last updated 4/14/2021 at 4:59pm | View PDF
A child exhibiting depressive symptoms can feel confusing, scary, overwhelming. It is common to question where it came from and how the feelings started and to wonder where to find hope for their darkness.
Depression is a serious condition that should never be ignored. Symptoms such as melancholy, lack of energy and emotion, hopelessness, fog, trouble getting going and tears are warning signs, urging us to do something, change course, slow down and pay attention.
When children suffer from depression, it is important to stop and help them; finding the cause and walking alongside them as they journey to get their "old self" back.
Depression in a child can stem from many different sources and not all depression is equal. Before you can help your child get the help they need, it is important to consider the source of their depression in order to get them the right treatment.
There are four major childhood depressive symptom sources.
1. Situational depression - This is where someone or something causes a "black cloud" feeling. Once the "thing" or "situation" is removed, the depression could dissipate. Seasonal affective disorder falls under this category (aka "the winter blues").
2. Biological depression - a wiring issue - stems from biological causes that often can be generational. Can you see depression scattered through the branches of your family tree? For example, anyone in your family that has a consistent outlook on life where the glass is always "half empty"?
3. Grief - Depression symptoms from a loss of any kind can come in the form of grief. Grief, not just physical death, can come as a result of the loss of a two-parent home through divorce, moving to a new town, transitions such as a new school or losing a friend group etc. Loss can cause short- to long-term depressive symptoms.
4. Abuse and trauma - Unexplained depression can often present when a child is holding a secret of abuse. Abuse can be physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual (bullying can fall under emotional abuse). Similarly, prolonged pain from a traumatic event can weigh heavily on a child and cause depressive symptoms as well.
With so many possible depression sources, what can you do for your child? Well, for many children, learning coping and problem-solving skills in a safe environment can begin to promote a life-giving change. This change over time may be just enough to lift the "black cloud" of depression. For other children, a treatment plan that is a bit more extensive may be needed. An extensive treatment plan could include getting outside help to learn ways to deal with feelings and exploring helpful medications.
No two depression cases are the same, but there is always hope. There is not a set roadmap on how to deal with childhood depression. But, with hard work, love and a strong support system, you can give your child a chance to get out under that black rain cloud of depression and get back to their old selves again.
- Susan Stutzman, LCPC, RPT, is a licensed child therapist and the owner/founder of Kid Matters Counseling P.C. in Hinsdale.