It’s a normal part of a child’s emotional development to experience large shifts in their emotions and it is normal for children to feel down, be sensitive to criticism and express sudden outbursts of emotion such as anger or annoyance. As children develop, they become more aware of their emotions and learn to regulate them.
However, if these negative changes in mood persist for weeks or months, your child may be showing signs of depression and may need additional support to cope and manage their symptoms.
Depression, formally known as Major Depressive Disorder, is a mood disorder characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, low mood and loss of interest or pleasure. Children with depression may present with emotional, physical and behavioural changes that interfere with their ability to participate in school, make friends and perform daily tasks.
Children and young people can have difficulty expressing complex emotions, which can make the signs of depression difficult to spot. Challenging emotional and behavioural changes (in line with those listed below) that persist for several weeks may indicate that your child is experiencing depression.
Children with depression can express their feelings very differently at different life stages. Often, they might display a combination of psychological, physical and behavioural symptoms.
Signs of depression may include:
In some cases, children may experience intense feelings of depression that can put them at risk of having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, which can be incredibly distressing for parents as well as the child. There are a number of 24-hour professional support services available to contact when your child is experiencing emotional distress including Kids Helpline and Lifeline. If you feel that your child’s safety is at risk, it’s important to seek immediate professional help by calling 000.
Depression is unlikely to go away on its own so if you have concerns about your child’s wellbeing, it’s important to seek help from a professional straight away. Children and adolescents are still developing their sense of self, so early intervention is important in helping prevent more severe depressive illness in later life.
If your child is displaying signs of depression, make an appointment with your GP to discuss their symptoms. A GP can rule out any other medical concerns and refer your child to a psychologist for further assessment.
A psychologist will perform a range of interviews and questionnaires to understand your child’s emotions and behaviours in a range of situations. Following assessment, the psychologist can determine whether your child is experiencing depression and develop a tailored strategy to support them.
Speaking with a psychologist or counsellor regularly can also help your child understand and manage their feelings. There are a number of therapies available to support children with depression, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), play therapy and mindfulness.
If a child’s symptoms are severe and don’t improve with therapy, there are medication options available to help them cope. A psychiatrist will determine the best medication option to prescribe based on the needs of your child.
It’s crucial to seek professional help to support a child with depression. However, there are many ways parents can support children with their depression at home. For example:
Children with depression may be eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 20 sessions with a mental health professional through the Better Access to Mental Health Care initiative.
A mental health care plan from your GP or referral from a psychiatrist or paediatrician is required if seeking to claim Medicare rebates through the Better Access to Mental Health Care program.
Learning Links offers a range of services that can support treatment of depression in children. Some of these services may be eligible for Medicare rebates under your child’s Mental Health Care Plan.
Assessment – Learning Links’ Psychologists conduct assessments to evaluate concerns around depression and can make a formal diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder . Read more
Social Skills Programs – Learning Links offers a range of small group interventions such as The Zones of Regulation to support children with emotional difficulties. Our group programs are available during school terms and during the school holidays. Each program teaches children practical strategies to regulate their behaviours and emotions. Read more
Psychological support – Children who present with depression may benefit from well researched, professional intervention such as cognitive behavioural therapy, play therapy or narrative therapy. Psychologists can support children and help with strategies and ways to cope with depressive symptoms. Read more
Education Support – Learning Links’ Specialist Educators provide individualised literacy and numeracy programs that cater for your child to re-teach areas your child may have missed as a result of depression and utilise strategies to promote ongoing learning. Read more
Occupational Therapy- Learning Links Occupational Therapists can assist your child with time management skills to structure their day more productively. Read more
Speech Pathology – Learning Links’ Speech Pathologists can assist your child to be able to communicate their needs correctly to ensure levels of depression are reduced. Read more
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