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What Help is Available for a Child with Severe Depression?

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/7/2011

A child with severe depression may have difficulty admitting that they feel depressed and experience trouble identifying their symptoms. In this article, you'll learn ways to identify depression in children and how you can help a depressed child.

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    Severe Depression Symptoms

    Severe depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder, differs from mild depression or occasional feelings of sadness in a couple of significant ways. People with major depression generally experience more symptoms of depression than those with mild or occasional depression. Some of the common symptoms of major depression include feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, crying episodes, frustration or irritability, insomnia, eating changes and unexplained physical complaints. Suicidal ideation most commonly occurs among people suffering from major depression.

    Children often deny feelings of depression and have difficulty identifying and expressing their feelings. They usually do not understand what is causing their symptoms. Symptoms of depression vary based on the age of the child. A pre-adolescent child with severe depression may experience an increase in aggressive behavior, have temper tantrums, cry frequently or have physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches. Older children and adolescents may tend to withdraw, isolate themselves from others, display irritable behavior, stop participating in activities they previously enjoyed, sleep and eat more and have frequent conflicts with authority figures. Some may start abusing drugs or alcohol.

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    Help for a Child with Severe Depression

    Severe depression is usually treated with a combination of psychotropic medications and psychotherapy. The first step in getting help for a child with severe depression is to consult your family doctor. Your physician can perform a physical examination to rule out any possible physical explanations for why your child is feeling the way they do.

    Once physical causes are ruled out, your physician can refer you to a child psychiatrist to discuss additional treatment options, such as medication or therapy. It's important to see a psychiatrist who specializes in working with children, as they receive additional training in the identification of issues specific to children and methods of communicating with them. This is crucial, as children do not communicate their feelings of depression in the same way as adults.

    Your child's school may have a social worker or a school counselor on staff. This is a beneficial resource for parents of a depressed child, as the counselor can help your child deal with any academic or social issues, such as skipping classes, academic decline, bullying or peer pressure.

    Talking to your child's teacher can help identify any issues that occur specifically in the classroom. Additionally, informing your child's teacher about the depression can help them make changes to the way they interact with your child. For example, the teacher may be able to provide extra help if your son or daughter is experiencing academic issues.

    Getting help for yourself or other members of the family may also be useful, as depression in one person affects the entire family. If your child has siblings, it may be helpful to talk with them about depression so they are better able to provide support and understanding.

    Support groups for children suffering from depression can be another option, but only if your child expresses interest in participating in such a group. Many community hospitals and mental health clinics offer such support groups.