It’s tough to be a kid today. Sure, they aren’t suffering through the Great Depression or fighting wars, but increased competition, social media recording everything they do, and the pressure to conform to trends can get overwhelming.
With the increase in awareness surrounding depression in kids, more parents are growing concerned about the mental health of their own children. This is a great thing; it’s important that kids have the mental support they need to be happy and healthy. However, it’s also important to know the facts surrounding mental health issues like depression in order to most effectively help your child.
Childhood depression is not the same as the normal moodiness that many kids display. Further, not all children show symptoms of depression in the same way or at the same time. But with the current rate of childhood depression in the U.S. hovering around 2.5% and rising, and the fact that depression is much more common in boys under age 10 than in girls, parents need to recognize the warning signs of this illness on their own.
Unlike adults, kids can’t seek out mental help themselves. To make sure you son gets the support he needs, pay attention to the following signs and symptoms.
Masked depression is when a depressed person exhibits angry behavior and “acts out” instead of showing sadness. This is especially common with young boys, who tend to be discouraged from showing vulnerability compared with girls.
If your son throws temper tantrums, destroys objects and property, acts disrespectfully to others, or exhibits other angry behavior, he might be struggling with depression and is masking it to appear strong. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to talk about what issues might be laying under his angry demeanor.
That being said, many boys still display sadness and other symptoms that adults do when depressed. Following are more common symptoms of depression in younger kids.
Boys suffering from childhood depression often feel irritability, unending sadness and hopelessness, sensitivity to rejection, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness, and loss of interest in their usual activities. If your son snaps at you out of character, tells you that he always feels sad, loses his optimism, or no longer cares about the activities he used to enjoy, you should consider talking to him or setting him up with a professional therapist.
Thinking seriously about death or suicide is another common emotional symptom of childhood depression. Although suicide attempts are relatively rare in kids under 12, it does happen. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide than boys are, but boys are more likely to be successful in a suicide attempt – so if your son talks about suicide, it’s extremely important to take it seriously and get him to a professional immediately.
Childhood depression can also manifest itself physically. Along with chronic fatigue and sleeplessness or excessive sleep, a boy may be constantly restless and agitated, as well as have unexplained aches and pains. If your son suddenly becomes less active, does agitated activities like pacing or chewing his nails, or complains about stomachaches or headaches that don’t respond to treatment, depression could be an explanation.
You should also pay attention to any dramatic changes in your son’s appearance. It’s certainly true that boys make appearance changes all the time, from haircuts to new clothing styles, but more significant changes – like in weight – might be cause for concern. Kids who are overweight or obese, especially when they gain the weight suddenly, are more likely to have depression than kids at a healthy weight.
It’s also important to take note of any changes in your son’s activities if you suspect he might be depressed.
For instance, many kids with depression withdraw socially from their family and friends. If your son used to have a group of friends but is now keeping himself isolated in his room, or no longer seems to enjoy hanging out with the family, it’s possible that he’s suffering from depression. Although it might just be normal growing pains, any dramatic shifts in social behavior could be warning signs.
Boys with depression also struggle in school and can begin using drugs or alcohol, especially if they’re over the age of 12. Pay attention to if your son’s grades begin to decline, he quits his usual sports teams or clubs, refuses to go to school, or starts abusing alcohol or other drugs. These are all significant signs of depression, and should be addressed as soon as possible.
If your son shows any of these signs, approach him in a non-judgmental, safe way. By helping him feel less alone, you can help your boy lead a happier, healthier life.