How to Be a Support System for a Child Struggling With Depression

Mental Health
April 3, 2021
4 min read

Whether you’ve dealt with depression or know someone who has, you’re aware that it is so much more than “feeling sad”. People and situations don’t trigger these feelings of hopelessness and can’t counteract this constant emotional pain. As defined by the American Psychiatric Association, depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It can interfere with your ability to function or complete simple tasks throughout the day.

Many people assume that only adults deal with depression. This is far from the truth. Children can begin to show symptoms of depression at a young age. If they go untreated, they will continue to suffer, increasing their likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts. If you believe your child is showing signs of depression or want to be prepared if they begin to, read on as we will discuss different mood disorders, common symptoms, treatment options and ways to support them.

How will I know if my child has depression?

Acknowledging your child’s depressive disorder is crucial in their healing journey. Those who battle with mental illness often struggle to find validation, both internal and external, for the way that they feel. As a result, this limits their ability to manage their symptoms and treat their depression. For children, they will likely feel lost and scared, unable to put a label on their rollercoaster of emotions, in desperate need of support and guidance.

There are a few different forms of depression or related mood disorders that children can suffer from. One’s that are most common include:

  • Major depression: recently developed, intense depressive episode that lasts at least two weeks
  • Chronic depression (dysthymia): a milder depressive episode that can last for two years or longer, comes on gradually
  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood: developed after an upsetting event
  • Seasonal affective disorder: develops usually during winter months due to lack of light exposure
  • Bipolar disorder (manic/bipolar depression): episodes of major depression with episodes of mania (emotional high)
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: pattern of intense temper tantrums, aggressive outburst, irritable behavior, lasting at least one year (ages 6+)

You know your child better than anyone, and as an involved parent, you will begin to notice changes in their behavior and mood. Common symptoms and signs of depression include but are not limited to:

  • Lasting feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Increase or decrease in appetite that leads to weight gain or loss
  • Excessive amount or lack of sleep
  • Low energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating potentially affecting academic performance
  • Irritable/angry outbursts
  • Unable to function during everyday activities/events
  • Feeling worthless, low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sensitive to rejection
  • Clinginess
  • Self harm
  • Issues with personal relationships (friends, family, etc.)
  • Anxiety

Supporting Your Child

Before jumping to conclusions about your child’s mental state, consult with a health professional to receive an official diagnosis. They may prescribe medication and/or recommend behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used as an effective treatment for children learning to manage their anxiety or depression. It can be done with just the child, child and parent or even involve the child’s school.

When you begin to notice symptoms of depression, talk with your child. Maybe it isn’t depression and they are able to pinpoint something in their life that is causing them to avoid hanging with friends, eat less or lose focus in school. An open conversation will only benefit them in becoming more in touch and aware of their emotions so that they are prepared to handle similar situations in the future. You may find that they are a victim of bullying, struggling with body image or feeling overwhelmed with school. If they are unable to explain the cause of their depressive feelings, assure them that their symptoms are real and the way they feel is valid. They do not need to feel like this forever and self harm and suicide are never the answer.

After consulting a professional and talking with your child, you can begin implementing daily practices to help your child manage, and eventually treat, their depressive disorder.

  • Creating a healthy diet plan (including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein, nuts, seeds)
  • Daily physical activity
  • Getting enough sleep each night (without oversleeping)
  • Prioritizing time to relax or meditate
  • Make time to do things they enjoy

Consistent Check-ins

Along with these daily practices, remember to consistently check-in with your child. Are they feeling better or worse? Do they notice certain things or situations causing a shift in their mood? If they spend time on social media or exploring online, how do they feel after? Studies have shown that the increase in the use of digital devices has coincided with an increase in depression. An unhealthy, negative online environment will drastically affect the way your child feels about themselves and the world around them. These negative associations with social media can be happening whether they are aware of it or not.

Cyber Dive integrated the Aqua One with our patent-pending Mental Health Check to provide parents consistent insight into their child's over well-being. They are able to see how their child is feeling throughout the day, how their child feels about their environment at home or school and if they child is developing symptoms of depression. Cyber Dive believes that children can benefit from the guidance and supervision of a parent when they begin to use social media. Your involvement can limit the impact that negative online interactions have on them so that they can learn to build healthy habits and act as a digitally responsible citizen. In the long run, this will greatly improve their mental health and their intention when using digital devices. As technology progresses and societal trends shift, parents need to evolve in their approach as well. Prioritizing your child’s awareness online will bring wellness offline.

For additional support and practical next steps, you can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). If you are ready to schedule your child to talk with a mental health professional, visit Talkspace, an online platform that connects patients with licensed therapists.

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