Children and teens aren’t exempt to depression and/or anxiety, either. Nearly 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by the age of 14, according to NAMI.
Determining if your child or teen may have depression and/or anxiety can be difficult to differentiate from typical brain development and hormones.
Depression and/or anxiety in children can affect their daily activities such as school, getting along with friends and family, or a sudden lack of desire to participate in sports or clubs that they were once very active in, explains Becky Powell, a mental health clinician with SummitStone Health Partners Crisis Stabilization Center and Behavioral Health Urgent Care in Fort Collins.
“Every kid might be different in the way they present, but over all any parent who sees a large change in a child’s behavioral or in their moods, that might be an indication that something’s going on,” she said. “Kids don’t tend to present with anxiety or depression symptoms like adults do.”
Children and teens communicate to adults and parents through their behavior, Powell explained. It’s not typical for a child or teen to come up to an adult and say “mom or dad, I’m feeling depressed.”
“If you have a child or teen who has had a sudden increase in controlling behaviors —they refuse to comply, the try to control their siblings — they are trying to get the world to do what they want it to do, they are trying to make their anxiety go away and feel safe,” Powell said. “You may also see an increase in nightmares, sleeplessness, or toileting regressions and they may develop a lot of phobias.”
When a fear or fixation takes over a child or teen’s life and they aren’t able to function in school that should be a big signal to parents that there could be a problem.
If parents think their child or teen may be experiencing depression and/or anxiety, making “I notice” comments, such as “I notice you’re not as interested in playing XYZ as you used to” or “I notice that you seem angry or upset lately,” can help address issues without making the child or teen feel uncomfortable.
“Just make the observation and leave it at that. You are bringing to their awareness that there may have been a change and opening a conversation in a way that’s not threatening,” Powell said. “Most of the time if you are wrong, they will tell you.”
Parents can consult with a pediatrician to help rule out any physical issues that may be causing changes in behavior.
“If it feels more urgent than that, then I would encourage parents to reach out to a therapist that has experience working with children or teens,” Powell said.
For more information, visit our resource, Depression & Anxiety: Understanding and Managing Mental Health Conditions.