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Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

By Daniela McVicker

As a parent, you need to be prepared for dealing with problems—big and small. That includes taking care of your child’s mental health. It’s important to step up when things get serious.
Teen depression is not as rare as we’d like it to be. In fact, a 2016 study shows that 12.8% of US adolescents had at least one major depressive episode.

If you suspect your child might be experiencing depression, here are some steps you can take.

Learn How to Recognize Warning Signs

Teenagers go through various phases. There’s often a lot of mood swings and emotional episodes that comes with adolescence, and it can be hard to know when their behavior is a part of growing up and when it’s more serious. The first step towards helping your child battle depression is to learn how to spot it. Become familiar with the warning signs.

  • Low self-esteem
  • Withdrawal
  • Lack of interest
  • Hopelessness
  • Academic success deterioration
  • Drastic changes in eating habits (too little or too much)
  • Feeling guilty and ashamed
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Fatigue and aches
  • Thoughts of suicide and death

If your child is experiencing one or a combination of these symptoms, they may need professional help.

Get Them Professional Help

There are several ways you can provide professional help for your child:

  • Talk to their pediatrician to seek further guidance
  • Take them to see a mental health professional
  • Contact a local mental health service
  • Look online for resources such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The most important thing is that you don’t ignore the problem, but give your child the resources and support to fight it.

Give Your Child Emotional Support

Your child needs emotional support, and you need to be their number one person. Emotional support from the family is the building block of further social relationships. But, how can you manage to establish this kind of a firm base?

  • Spend quality time with your child
  • Encourage open and honest conversations
  • Listen to what your child has to say
  • Acknowledge their inner struggles

Showing support, without being pushy, can help you gain your child’s trust allowing them to talk about their problems and worries when they come up. This will help you be able to spot potential warning signs and react accordingly.

Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle

Physical and mental health are closely connected. And a healthy lifestyle can help manage symptoms of depression. Of course, you can’t order your child to lead a healthy life but you can provide healthy options and adopt a healthy lifestyle yourself. Being subtle in your suggestions and providing a good example can help encourage them to want a healthy life for themselves.

Here’s what you can inspire your child to do:

  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity can reduce the severity of depression and is known to be a great stress reliever. Encourage your child to play a sport or even just take regular walks with them. You can offer your company or suggest they find an exercise-buddy.
  • Eat healthy meals: Food affects our brain and can be vital for reducing stress and coping with depression. Provide healthy meals and promote eating quality food as much as possible. You can try filling the fridge with fruits, veggies and nuts, and remove all the sugary drinks and refined sugar.
  • Sleep regularly: If our body doesn’t get enough sleep, it feels threatened and tired. Consequentially, we start feeling exhausted, unmotivated and it can worsen depression. If you can, try motivating your child to sleep regularly and stick to a consistent bedtime.

Help them Feel Connected

Depression can lead to isolation. Loneliness is a common experience with 80% of the population under 18 years of age. A lack of interaction and connection can worsen depression symptoms. Obviously, you can’t make your child have friends or force them to socialize. Some children find it hard to socially interact and make the first move with new friends. That’s why this subject matter is delicate and takes time. You can:

  • Inspire your child to join a club at school or attend activities
  • Give them ideas on attending various social events
  • Encourage play dates and sleepovers at your house
  • Organize family gatherings

Whatever makes your child stay in contact with people will help. Just remember, don’t leave loneliness unattended. It won’t go away on its own.

In order to help your child battle depression, you need to be alert and ready to react. Do your best to provide a supportive home environment and a great example; listen, talk and encourage.

By making sure you have a healthy and open relationship with your child, you’ll be able to help them overcome depression.

Daniela McVicker is an editor for Top Writers Review. She is also an experienced writer with a degree in social psychology from Durham University. Daniela is primarily focused on writing about self-improvement. She has authored a number of insightful and motivating articles like “Making The Right Choices Every Day” and “7 Steps To Open Yourself To New Opportunities & Possibilities.”

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

Serious Statistics

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “About 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general

population suffer from depression at any given point in time.” Some experts estimate the numbers to be much higher. Suicide.org estimates that 20 percent of high school students in America consider suicide at some point. Depressive behavior in students can be temporary, lasting from six months to several years. Some students suffer from a long-term chronic form of depression that is lifelong. Seventy percent of children never receive help for their depression, according to Therese J. Borchard on PsychCentral.com Children who do not receive medical treatment for depression are significantly more likely to attempt suicide.

Besides suicide risk, depressed children can exhibit one or more symptoms that are destructive to their lives. Depressed children often have low self-esteem and are sensitive to constructive criticism. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have eating disorders, and participate in self-mutilation. Depressed students are often irritable and sometimes even violent. A student who was once an active participant in the classroom may suddenly withdraw from classroom activities.

Spotting the Signs

Growing up is difficult. Hormonal changes and life changes all require emotional adjustments. It is normal for a child to experience brief periods of depression and display mild outbursts of resistance to authority. When periods of depression are extended and behavior is disruptive, a child needs help. Threats of suicide should never be taken lightly; they are a cry for help. The students whom teachers find to be the most behaviorally challenging are often the very students who are crying out for help.

It is rare for a student to come to a teacher and ask for emotional help. Depression often goes unrecognized at home. The child’s symptoms get dismissed as normal adolescent behavior. Depressive symptoms are mistaken for normal teenage angst. Teachers are often the ones who recognize that their student is exhibiting signs of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs of adolescent depression as:

Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings.

Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism.

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness.

Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex.

Fatigue and decreased energy.

Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.

Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping.

Overeating, or appetite loss.

Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts.

Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

Take Action

Teachers who recognize signs of depression in their students should take action. The teacher should talk to the student privately to discuss their concerns. The teacher must remain non-judgmental and speak without accusation. Students should be referred to school counselors for help. Teachers, student counselors and parents should work as a team to get treatment for depressed students. With a combination of counseling and medication, students can once again live a healthy and happy life.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

In 2004, a survey carried out by the NHS found that 1 in 10 children aged 5-15 in the UK had a mental health disorder. By 2017, the figure had risen to 1 in 9. This increase was largely due to a rise in the number of children aged 5-15 who had an emotional disorder like anxiety or depression (3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017). When older teenagers were included (5-19-year-olds) around 8% had an emotional disorder. That means that even before the pandemic hit, the number of children reporting some kind of mental health problem in the UK was on the rise… hence the first ever Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015. And if the evidence is to be believed then Covid-19 and the constant lockdowns have not improved matters.

First things first, a n unhappy child is often a healthy child

It ’ s been a really tough year, and although it may sound strange to say that children should be unhappy, it ’ s perfectly normal and in fact healthy for children (and parents!) to allow themselves to experience and express a range of negative emotions. Trying to hide feelings like anger and sadness, rather than learning to express them in a healthy way, can actually lead to an increased likelihood of developing symptoms of depression or anxiety. It can also cause social problems like feelings of loneliness or being bullied. Feeling down is not the same thing as being depressed, though. So how can you tell when a child’s feelings of sadness or anger are more than just part of their everyday processing?

How to tell the difference between unhappiness and something more

Depression in children (and adults, too!) tends to change three main things: feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Being unhappy can do this as well of course, but the changes that come with depression last a long time and will get in the way of your child living their life.

Feelings: Children with depression tend to feel sad or irritable a lot of the time and no longer enjoy the things they used to do. A little bookworm might no longer show any interest in reading, for instance. Some children also feel guilty and blame themselves for things going wrong in life, or even for simply feeling blue.

Thinking: Depression can lead to thoughts that are really negative, especially when it comes to thinking about yourself. This can affect self-esteem and children can end up believing that they are ‘ no good ’ and that problems are their fault. Depression can also affect their concentration, making it harder for them to pay attention or make decisions. This could be reflected in worse school performance or you overhearing them saying negative things about themselves.

Behaviour: Often, depression is accompanied by changes in eating and sleeping – either doing it a lot more or a lot less. Children can become less active, feel tired and have low energy… although it ’ s possible they may also be tense and restless. It ’ s not uncommon for children to complain of headaches and stomach aches too, so these are all things to look out for.

It ’ s complicated

As you can probably tell, no two children with depression are going to be exactly the same – every child is different, and the severity of the problem, and the child’s age, will have an impact on how depression affects them individually, too. To make things even more complicated, feelings, thoughts and behaviours can all affect each other. For instance, lacking the energy to complete a task may make feelings of guilt worse and increase negative thoughts about themselves – especially if school performance starts to plummet or friendships are affected by their changed behaviour.

Depression tends to change three main things: feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

Luckily, depression in children is still uncommon and around 10% of children and young people who become depressed tend to recover spontaneously within about three months. By the end of the first year, 50% will have recovered. After two years, only around 20-30% of children remain depressed. That may make it seem like it ’ s worth just waiting it out, but getting treatment can shorten how long depression lasts, and leaving it untreated can lead to it becoming worse. It ’ s always good to talk to your child about what they ’ re feeling, regardless of whether it turns out to be depression or something else. The focus of Children’s Mental Health Week this year is encouraging children to express themselves.

About the Author

Dr Ruth Spence is a research psychologist and academic. Her research focuses on mental health, including common disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as attachment and life events. Although she has published in academic journals, she decided to write a picture book so she could reach children and families that might be affected by mental health issues. Her picture book is a tool to help adults talk to children about depression. It is available now. It has been reviewed by Little Parachutes and has been given a gold star award – a mark of the very best helpful picture books for children.

Tips on coping at home and at school for parents of kids or teenagers diagnosed with childhood depression

Depression is a serious medical condition that can negatively affect a child’s ability to connect with friends and family, enjoy normal daily activities, attend school and concentrate while there, and enjoy childhood.

Proper diagnosis and a treatment plan is a good start, but working through depression requires time and can include relapses. It helps to know what to expect during the process and when to seek additional help.

Get The Basics (and So Much More) on Depression

Our in-depth overview shares the latest doctor-approved info on symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, and what it’s really like to live with depression.

Understand the symptoms

For adults, the defining feature of a major depressive episode includes depressed mood nearly every day for a two-week period, but for kids, you are more likely to see irritability. 1

Watch for these other symptoms:

  • Irritable, sad, withdrawn, or bored most of the time
  • Does not take pleasure in usual activities
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What to expect from treatment

Treatment for a depression can take time and sometimes involves some trial and error. No two kids are the same, and it’s important to remain patient with the process to help your child feel safe.

  • Education: Educating your child about depression is a crucial first step. This helps your child understand the possible causes (genetics, environmental factors, bullying, stress), understand brain chemistry (low serotonin), and reduces self-blame. It also normalizes what your child is going through.
  • Psychotherapy: Counseling is a good option for kids struggling with depression. There are different kinds of counseling and what works for one might not work for another. For very young children, play therapy is an option. For older kids and teens, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be effective. It can take time to find the best patient/therapist match. Make several calls and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You know your child best.
  • Medication: Medication might be necessary for moderate to severe cases, but medication works best when combined with counseling. Medication management is important. Close supervision of the prescribing physician is recommended.
  • Hospitalization: For severe cases of depression, including suicidal ideation, hospitalization is sometimes necessary.

What to expect at home

Even with medication, there is no quick fix for depression. Treatment can be long and arduous. Parents can help support children by doing the following:

  • Encouraging daily exercise (this does not have to include an organized sport. Family walks count.)
  • Supervising any medication (it’s too much to ask a depressed child to manage his own medication)
  • Make time to talk. Counseling will help your child begin to open up and verbalize feelings; it’s your job to listen and provide unconditional support when your child opens up at home.
  • Cook healthy meals. Healthy lifestyle choices can help with the treatment process.
  • Encourage healthy sleep habits

What to expect at school

It’s very difficult to perform well in school when thinking and concentration are impaired by depression. It’s important to include the classroom teacher and a school counselor or psychologist on the treatment team to help your child work through this difficult time.

There are classroom accommodations that might benefit your child during this time. Talk to the classroom teacher about the following:

  • Extended time for lengthy assignments and tests
  • Breaking down assignments into manageable pieces (this is particularly helpful for kids who appear “overwhelmed”)
  • Help to create study or homework schedules
  • Provide copy of class notes (helpful for impaired concentration)
  • Taking tests in a quiet room, free from distractions

It’s also helpful to have a plan in place should your child need a break during the day. Examples might include a daily check-in with a school counselor or psychologist in the early stage of treatment and a weekly appointment as your child stabilizes.

What to expect from your child

Children and adolescents are not mini-adults. They are developing and changing at a rapid pace, even when they experience a depressive episode. As such, symptoms can intensify and lessen throughout treatment. You might find that the depression seems to have lifted, only to notice a relapse in depressive behavior a few days later.

Irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and outbursts are common in depressed children. As hard as this can be for the parent on the receiving end of these behaviors, it is important that parents remain calm and focus on active listening. It’s the natural tendency for the parent to want to “fix” it or somehow put a stop to it, but mental illness is complicated. It can’t be fixed or stopped. It can, however, improve. With proper treatment and supports in place, your child can thrive and enjoy childhood once again.

  1. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 160-168.

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About Depression

It’s normal for kids to feel sad, down, or irritated, or to be in bad moods from time to time. But when negative feelings and thoughts linger for a long time and limit a child’s ability to function normally, it might be depression.

Depression is a type of mood disorder. The main sign is when kids are sad, discouraged, or irritable for weeks, months, or even longer. Another sign a kid might have depression is negative thinking. This includes focusing on problems and faults, being mostly critical and self-critical, and complaining a lot.

Depression can interfere with energy, concentration, sleep, and appetite. Kids with depression may lose interest in activities and schoolwork, seem tired, give up easily, or withdraw from friends or family.

When kids have depression, it’s hard for them to make an effort, even when doing things they used to enjoy. Depression can make kids feel worthless, rejected, or unlovable. It can make everyday problems seem more difficult than they actually are. When depression is severe, it can lead kids to think about self-harm or suicide.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

Recognizing Depression

It can be hard for parents and other adults to know when a child is depressed. An irritable or angry mood might seem like a bad attitude or disrespect. Low energy and lack of interest might look like not trying. Parents (and kids and teens themselves) may not realize that these can be signs of depression.

Because depression can show up in different ways and might be hard to see, it helps to let a doctor know if feelings of sadness or bad moods seem to go on for a few weeks..

Diagnosing Depression and Other Mood Disorders

When diagnosing depression and similar mood disorders, doctors and mental health professionals use different categories. They all have depressed mood as a main symptom, but they develop in different ways. For example:

  • Major depression is an intense episode of depression that has developed recently and has lasted for at least 2 weeks.
  • Chronic depression (also called dysthymia) is a milder depression that has developed more gradually, and has lasted for 2 years or longer.
  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is depression that has developed after an upsetting event — anything from a natural disaster to a death in the family.
  • Seasonal affective disorder is a kind of depression that is related to light exposure. It develops when hours of daylight are shorter; for example, during winter months.
  • Bipolar disorder (also called manic depression or bipolar depression) is a condition that includes episodes of major depression and, at other times, episodes of mania (emotional highs).
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is a pattern of intense, frequent temper tantrums; outbursts of aggression and anger; and a usual mood of irritability that has lasted for at least a year in a child older than 6.

Getting Help

Depression and other mood disorders can get better with the right attention and care. But problems also can continue or get worse if they’re not treated.

If you think your child might be depressed or has a problem with moods:

Talk with your child about depression and moods. Kids might ignore, hide, or deny how they feel. Or they might not realize that they’re depressed. Older kids and teens might act like they don’t want help, but talk with them anyway. Listen, offer your support, and show love.

Schedule a visit to your child’s pediatrician. The doctor will probably do a complete physical exam. A full exam lets the doctor check your child for other health conditions that could cause depression-like symptoms. If the doctor thinks your child has depression, or a similar mood disorder, he or she may refer you to a specialist for evaluation and treatment.

Contact a mental health specialist. Depression can get better. But without help, it can last or get worse. A child or adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist can evaluate your child and recommend treatment.

Therapists treat depression and other mood disorders with talk therapy, sometimes medicine, or both. Parent counseling is often part of the treatment, too. It focuses on ways parents can best support and respond to a kid or teen going through depression.

More Ways to Help

Treatment with a therapist is important. But you play an important role, too. At home, these simple but powerful things can help your child deal with depression.

Be sure your child eats nutritious foods, gets enough sleep, and gets daily physical activity. These have positive effects on mood.

Enjoy time together. Spend time with your child doing things you both can enjoy. Go for a walk, play a game, cook, make a craft, watch a funny movie. Gently encouraging positive emotions and moods (such as enjoyment, relaxation, amusement, and pleasure) can slowly help to overcome the depressed moods that are part of depression.

Be patient and kind. When depression causes kids and teens to act grumpy and irritable, it’s easy for parents to become frustrated or angry. Remind yourself that these moods are part of depression, not intentional disrespect. Avoid arguing back or using harsh words. Try to stay patient and understanding. A positive relationship with a parent helps strengthen a child’s resilience against depression.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

Many children have fears and worries, and may feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears may appear at different times during development. For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. Although some fears and worries are typical in children, persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression. Learn about anxiety and depression in children.

Facts

  • Anxiety and depression affect many children1
    • 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.
    • 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression.
  • Anxiety and depression have increased over time2
    • “Ever having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression” among children aged 6-17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011–2012.
    • “Ever having been diagnosed with anxiety” among children aged 6-17 years increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012.
    • “Ever having been diagnosed with depression” among children aged 6-17 years did not change between 2007 (4.7%) and 2011–2012 (4.9%).

Anxiety

When children do not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include

  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
  • Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)

Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.

Depression

Occasionally being sad or feeling hopeless is a part of every child’s life. However, some children feel sad or uninterested in things that they used to enjoy, or feel helpless or hopeless in situations they are able to change. When children feel persistent sadness and hopelessness, they may be diagnosed with depression.

Examples of behaviors often seen in children with depression include

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time
  • Not wanting to do, or enjoy doing, fun things
  • Showing changes in eating patterns – eating a lot more or a lot less than usual
  • Showing changes in sleep patterns – sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal
  • Showing changes in energy – being tired and sluggish or tense and restless a lot of the time
  • Having a hard time paying attention
  • Feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
  • Showing self-injury and self-destructive behavior

Extreme depression can lead a child to think about suicide or plan for suicide. For youth ages 10-24 years, suicide is among the leading causes of death 1 . Read about youth suicide prevention external icon

Some children may not talk about their helpless and hopeless thoughts, and may not appear sad. Depression might also cause a child to make trouble or act unmotivated, causing others not to notice that the child is depressed, or to incorrectly label the child as a trouble-maker or lazy.

Treatment for Anxiety and Depression

The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider, such as your child’s primary care provider or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key; the school can also be included in the treatment plan. Consultation with a healthcare provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment.

Managing Symptoms: Staying Healthy

Being healthy is important for all children, and can be especially important for children with depression or anxiety. In addition to getting the right treatment, leading a healthy lifestyle can play a role in managing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Here are some healthy behaviors that may help:

  • Having a healthy eating plan centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), lean protein sources, and nuts and seeds
  • Participating in physical activity each day based on age
  • Getting the recommended amount of sleep each night based on age
  • Practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques

What is emotional dysregulation? Is it a disorder? Is it common? What are the signs of it?

Emotional dysregulation isn’t so much a disorder as it is a symptom. Being emotionally dysregulated means a person feels emotions more intensely than they should, feels them for longer than they should, feels them at inappropriate times, or responds to them in extreme ways. People who exhibit signs of emotional dysregulation often have severe mood swings or extreme emotional instability.

The most common people to experience emotional dysregulation are those with either personality disorders or mood disorders. However, it exists in other scenarios, as well.

For example, some people with ADHD experience emotional dysregulation, but not all. Oftentimes, those who have extreme anxiety disorders experience emotional dysregulation. Even those who are manic depressive tend to be emotionally dysregulated.

As previously stated, it isn’t so much a disorder (in and of itself) as it is a symptom of something bigger.

One of the most common causes of emotional dysregulation in children is childhood trauma. Regardless of what the “diagnosis” ends up being–depression, anxiety, PTSD, Schizoaffective Disorder, ADHD, etc–researchers have found that there’s almost always trauma in the child’s history.

But why does trauma cause emotional dysregulation? And what does emotional dysregulation look like in children? How is it treated? Is it possible to live without treating it?

When a child experiences trauma–which could be as severe as physical abuse or as “mild” as moderate neglect–the brain is affected. Specifically, the neural pathways in the brain either don’t form at all or they become damaged. This can prevent messages in the brain from getting where they need to go.

The prefrontal cortex can also become damaged by trauma during early development, which controls emotional regulation and decision-making abilities. When this area is damaged or under-developed, it becomes very difficult to behave in ways that are socially appropriate.

Furthermore, when the brain is in survival mode too often, adrenaline and stress hormones are released into the body too frequently. This can cause a variety of neurological and biological problems for children.

Emotional dysregulation in children and teens might look like:

– Excessive crying – lasting longer or more intense than what is situationally appropriate – Extreme anger that doesn’t seem to have a justified reason – Physical aggression toward self or others – Bouts of impulsivity that result in harmful risk-taking – Swift movement between the far ends of the emotional spectrum (elated one moment, but depressed a few moments later) – Suicidal ideation, even at an early age – Extremely fearful, beyond what is typical for their age

These are the kids who struggle to integrate socially into their environments because they can’t keep a lid on their emotions. Or, if they can integrate socially, they can’t do it for very long. They’re the ones who seem to burst their top as soon as they get home from school. Or maybe they lose control at school, and they spend a lot of time with the behavior department.

Although signs of emotional dysregulation look similar in children and teens, puberty seems to exacerbate the problem. All teens struggle with emotional management due to the flood of hormones rushing through their bodies, but those who experience emotional dysregulation will have an even more difficult time.

They won’t just be angry all the time. They’ll be so angry that they ruin every relationship they have.

They won’t just be sad all the time. They’ll cry excessively, experience extreme depression, and self harm.

They won’t just go through bouts of happiness that cause them to be a little braver. They’ll experience impulsivity to such an extreme that they drive erratically, spend every dime they have, steal from department stores, take up smoking, or sleep around without protection.

Emotional dysregulation is all about the extreme side of not being able to manage your emotions.

It is possible to live without treating this symptom. However, it’s very difficult, and it can be dangerous for many people. Being unable to regulate their emotions, and having extreme emotions on top of that, has caused people to commit suicide, to drive themselves into bankruptcy, to get into fatal car accidents, to hurt their children, to be fired from job after job, or to be unable to get a job at all.

The list could honestly go on and on. Emotional dysregulation completely disrupts a person’s ability to live in healthy ways.

Treatments for this problem are varied, but they almost always include some form of therapy and one or more medications. For children, treatment is even more complicated due to concerns about how medication will affect their brain development. Oftentimes, children are treated using therapeutic interventions as well as environmental changes before medications are tried. This could even look like a child having modifications at school, which is written in an Individualized Education Plan based on their behaviors.

No matter how a child is treated for emotional dysregulation, it’s a problem that ought to be closely monitored in order to keep the child safe. There is hope for a healthy life, but it’s going to take an army of people who are willing to be intentional and helpful.

In this Article

What is child abuse and neglect treatment?

Treatment for child abuse and neglect is a type of treatment that helps children deal with the results of abusive behavior towards them. Child abuse and neglect can have both emotional and physical symptoms that each require their own special kind of treatment.

Child abuse and neglect can take several forms. The treatment provided will depend on the type of abuse experienced. In general, the main types of child abuse include:

  • Physical abuse . Physical abuse is when a child receives a physical injury that is not an accident from anyone who oversees their care. It does not have to be from a parent.
  • Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse occurs w hen a parent or caregiver acts in ways that damage a child’s sense of self-worth.
  • Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is w hen a parent or caregiver exposes a child to sexual behavior.
  • Neglect. This type of abuse is the failure of a child’s parent or caretaker to provide for basic needs like food, shelter, or health care. Neglect may be:
    • Physical. Physical neglect includes the failure to provide adequate supervision, food, shelter, or safety.
    • Medical. Medical neglect includes the failure to provide necessary healthcare.
    • Educational. Educational neglect includes when a parent or guardian fails to provide a child with proper schooling and education.
    • Emotional. Emotional neglect includes discounting or discouraging a child’s feelings.
    • Providing inadequate supervision. Inadequate supervision includes leaving a child alone if they can’t take care of themselves, or leaving a child in the care of an inappropriate or inadequate caregiver.
    • Exposing a child to violent situations. Children can be exposed to violent situations if they witness domestic violence at home or violence portrayed in the media.

What are the risks of child abuse and neglect?

Child abuse and neglect can have a lifelong impact on victims. Abused and neglected children are more likely to have:

  • Learning delays
  • Emotional problems
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Health problems
  • Substance misuse problems
  • Adult criminal behavior

Expert advice on the different ways you can be there for your kids’ emotional wellbeing.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

Recent statistics show that 1 in 5 young people in Britain aged 16-24 experience anxiety or depression. So what can we do to support young people’s mental health at home, and promote a positive environment in which they can thrive?

While many parents might know that their child is suffering, they might not know how they can help. Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, child and adolescent psychiatrist based at Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre, shares the everyday things you can do to help your kids’ develop robust mental health:

1.Encourage conversation with your kids

Ideally these should be a series of discussions that happen regularly and from a young age. At a young age, I would start by helping young people name the emotions they feel. For example, if they are crying because they are sad, say ‘I understand you are crying because you are sad’. If they are stamping their foot, say ‘I understand you are doing that because you are angry’.

Even at a young age, you can go on to say, ‘It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, let’s talk about why you feel sad’ or ‘let’s see if we can change how you feel to feeling happy by playing with your toys’. These small acts, as a parent, teach your child to really understand their emotions; it tells them it is okay and normal to feel emotions and to talk about them, and importantly it teaches them that you can change your emotions by what you do.

Ideally discussions about mental health and emotions should happen regularly and from a young age.

As children get older, I would ensure you talk to them about your day, events that have happened and how you felt about them or coped with them. Think about role modelling. If you are annoyed with your boss, don’t come in, shout at your family and sit on the couch knocking back a bottle of wine; that shows them unhealthy ways to cope when stressed. Come in and talk about how stressed and annoyed you felt and say, ‘I feel so much better for talking about how I feel and now I’m going to have a quick run to help myself feel even better.’ They will then learn healthy ways to cope from you.

When you learn a fact about mental health, or hear someone’s story who has struggled and recovered, share that information with your teenage children so that they know how common mental health issues are, it is fine to talk about them and that they are treatable.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

2. Be present

Over the years, if your child talks to you about their thoughts and feelings, really listen. Put your phone down, make eye contact, and focus just on them. React calmly. Try to validate how they feel with comments such as ‘I can understand why you felt like that’.

If your child talks to you about their thoughts and feelings, really listen.

Teach them you know they are competent to cope by saying ‘I know you will come through this as I remember the time when you were little when you showed me how you could cope with a similar situation such as when, for example, you felt anxious leaving me to start a new school but you let go of my hand walked in and said hello.’

This gives them evidence they are competent, you will listen, you do understand and it will help them learn they can talk to you.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

3. Look after yourself

I would suggest parents keep themselves informed about mental health so they know signs to look for and where to access help if needed.

If the parent has any difficulties themselves, they should seek help for themselves and prioritise it, as to look after a young person, you have to look after yourself.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

4. Stay calm to promote security

I often talk to young people, when calm, about the brain almost having different ‘mind states’ including an emotional mind state and a rational mind state. When they are in the emotional mind state, they cannot listen, they cannot see other’s view points and they should not make any decisions.

It is important to stay calm yourself when a young person is in an emotional state.

I explain to them if they are in an emotional mind state, I am happy to support them, distract them or give them space but I will not talk things through with them as they are unlikely to listen. I check with them when they are calm, how they would like me to support them in an emotional mind state going forward, so they know what to expect and so they get a reaction from me that is helpful to them.

It is important to stay calm yourself when a young person is in an emotional state as it helps them feel safe and secure. When they are in the rational, calm mind state, it is a better time to talk. If they understand this, they know why you might walk away when they are in an extreme of emotion, they understand their mind state better and gradually learn ways to calm more quickly.

Signs of depression in children (and how to help them to overcome it)

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If a young person is regularly or persistently appearing to be in an emotional state that seems to be out of the normal range and it has gone on longer than a couple of weeks, and is interfering with the young person’s level of functioning, or the functioning of the family, I would suggest having a discussion with a professional.

Mental health support

If you think you might be suffering from depression your first port of call should be your GP. For additional support, try one of the following resources:

  • Depression UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from depression.
  • Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
  • The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
  • Mind: a charity that makes sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
  • CALM: helping to reduce stigma and reduce rates of male suicide.