Signs that your Child may be Depressed During the Pandemic

As lockdown goes on, one really important thing we should be watching out for in our children, as well as ourselves, is depression. Naturally, we all feel down when our social life is cancelled and the majority of us are trying our best to stay positive and up- beat. But, depression is much more than just feeling sad, or having a couple of bad days, and a young child or teen who is seemingly stuck in a negative mood, not enjoying anything at all, despite how hard his parents are trying, may have depression and may need some help to be able to move forward.

Normally we wouldn’t see a lot of children with depression until they reach their later teens, I know at my therapy clinics, up until recently it was very rare for me to treat a child under 15 with depression. However, it CAN actually occur in children as young as four years old. Children who already have a known history of depression are particularly in danger of it re-occurring during this awful time of lockdowns, anxiety and worry about the future. However, traumatic times like this can also trigger depression and severe anxiety in children who have never shown any previous signs or symptoms.

So, what are the signs and symptoms of depression in children?

It can be quite hard to spot depression in teens because they are notoriously moody, sullen, quiet etc. Also, during this current time of lockdowns, covid, social distancing, where sad and irritable children are all around us, the signs and symptoms can be really hard to spot!

Signs of depression in children and teenagers are:

  • Sadness
  • Changes in weight
  • Changes in sleep
  • Loss of interest even in things the child previously liked
  • Feeling of uselessness
  • Self – loathing “I hate myself – I’m ugly”
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Feeling irritable
  • Teary
  • Thoughts or talk of suicide.
  • Staying in their room all the time
  • Being very quiet (more than normal)

So, if your child should show any of the above signs for more than a couple of weeks, it could be that he or she is struggling with depression. If you notice these symptoms, do make a note of them with the date. If these symptoms continue past two weeks, then it’s time to take some action.

What I encourage the parents of the children I treat in my therapy rooms or over zoom, is to make sure the child gets used to sharing their feelings, and not keeping them bottled up.

You can either have family chats whereby you all sit down as a family and chat about the week – what was good about it? What was not so good? And what could be improved for next week?

Alternatively, if you feel your children would prefer a one to one chat, then spend half an hour with your child, just chatting about what you are BOTH feeling. If you get into the routine of “checking in” with your children, they will get used to it and start opening up to you.

Try and ask specific questions, for example if they say they are worried about “the virus” – ask them what it is they are actually worried about – is it the fact that due to the virus they have to isolate or social distance from their friends? Or, are they frightened that you or another family may catch it and die? Or worse still – or they worried THEY will die?

One little girl (7) who I have been treating over zoom for depression and anxiety said: “My mummy is always sad, and I don’t want to annoy her, but I’m really scared that we are all going to die just like my grandma did.”

Children who are depressed very often have negative thoughts about themselves.

They will say things like:

“I’m useless!”

“I can’t do this schoolwork!”

“We are never gonna get out of this pandemic!”

“I’m never going to see my friends again!”

So, watch out for things like this and do get them to share their feelings with you. Just validate their feelings but don’t try to fix it straightaway. Say things like “Yeah, I do understand how you are feeling sweetheart – it must be hard at the moment for you” or

 “I’m sorry you are feeling so sad at the moment – shall we try and come up with a solution together, that may help you feel a bit better?”

The first thing to do- if you think your child is slipping into depression, is NOT to panic. Depending on your child’s age, you can encourage him or her to manage their feelings which may help them to ward off any serious depression before it gets to that stage.

Things to do to help your child:

  • Help your child not to over think things and catastrophise.
  • Children very often obsess on how bad things are, so try and help him not to do this.
  • Keep your child active with fun things so that he feels he has accomplished something every day – even really small things.
  • Teach your child how to challenge any negative thoughts. For example, your child may be thinking that the covid virus is going to go on forever, and that he will never actually see his friends again. Talk to him – get him to question those negative thoughts. What can he do to have contact with his friends in the meantime? Facetime perhaps?
  • Making some new goals is always a positive step. Talk with your child about things he would like to do in the future. Perhaps he hasn’t been able to have a holiday this past year so where would he like to go next year.
  • Learning a new skill would help your child with his confidence and self – esteem. If dad is good at DIY maybe he could teach your teen how to do something or make something. If mum is good at sewing, she could teach her daughter how to make something (this is all age dependant of course)
  • Exercise is always good for depression, but it doesn’t have to be just walking – any exercise – an on- line dance class or on- line martial arts class for the boys.
  • Make sure they do stay in touch with friends even if it is only a facetime chat or a phone call.

What if this continues?

If your child’s behaviour continues after a couple of weeks, there are various forms of treatment. You could get them an appointment with the GP (this would probably be a phone call appointment at the moment, due to lockdown) He may or may not refer to CAHMS to a paediatric Psychiatrist.

There are also different therapies such as CBT or hypnotherapy which will help get rid of the negative thoughts.

One of the mums whose son Jack (9) I treated recently over zoom said.:

“For several weeks Jack had been getting more and more down. He started off being snappy and angry but then he simply became quiet, didn’t want to get out of bed, didn’t want to do any of his favourite things. He slept so much and when his appetite dropped, I got very worried. A friend recommended Elaine’s therapy programme for children with anxiety and depression and I booked him in. The first couple of sessions, we didn’t really notice much change but after the third session it was absolutely astounding – we had our old happy Jack back, and it was marvellous! Elaine said he had been so depressed that the subconscious mind was taking a little longer to take in all the positive suggestions. If somebody had told me that just a few hypnotherapy sessions would make such a huge difference to my son’s state of mind I would never have believed it but – honestly – it was amazing! My husband and I are so grateful, as we were really beginning to wonder how this would all go if we couldn’t find Jack the help he obviously needed.”

Siobhan Mills, Oxford

Depression CAN lead to more serious symptoms like self – harm. anorexia and addiction, this is why I always tell parents to try and nip it in the bud before it takes a real hold.

If YOU are concerned about your child, do contact me for advice. Depending on what the situation is I may or may not be able to help him, but I may be able to advise you accordingly.

Remember, these times are hard enough for us adults who are well versed in dealing with everyday problems and challenges, but for a child or teen who has little experience or perhaps understanding …it’s magnified a hundred times over!

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