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Is your child depressed? Here are the warning signs

Children & adolescents with medical illnesses can be diagnosed with the entire spectrum of anxiety of disorders including acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety disorder due to general medical condition, substance-induced anxiety disorder and anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, panic disorder, specific and social phobias, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Anxiety disorders in children with medical illness have comorbid psychiatric and physical conditions where it is difficult to separate the physiological and psychological components of anxiety. Richardson et al (2006) looked at the relationship between asthma and anxiety. During the two week study period, youth ages 11–17 years with anxiety and/or depressive disorders had significantly more asthma symptom days and higher levels of both asthma symptoms and other physical symptoms such as headaches compared to youths without diagnoses of anxiety and/or depression, even when controlling for asthma severity. Chronic worry and stress/anxiety may decrease immune function, making an individual more susceptible to infections, increasing the severity of the pre-existing physical illness. Of note, adjustment to most chronic illnesses is not always predicted by the severity of the specific chronic illness but by other psychosocial factors such as parental adjustment, social support, intelligence etc. Somatic symptoms related to an actual physical illness may also lead to more frequent triggers for panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Also, illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy, that may need close medical monitoring and can result in a medical crisis may also make a child more anxious about being away from home and their caregivers and contribute to increased rates of separation anxiety in children with medical illnesses.

Signs of Childhood Depression

  • Doing poorly in school
  • Loss of interest in friends and favorite activities
  • Not eating or sleeping well
  • Feeling sad, hopeless and/or angry
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Overreacting to criticism and having trouble dealing with authority figures
  • Being unable to focus, and acting restless and agitated

If your child shows signs of emotional distress, don't assume it will just pass. Young people need guidance from parents and other adults to understand and work through all the emotions they're experiencing. Encourage them to share their feelings, and get them help from a mental health professional with experience in child depression, especially if their mood keeps them from functioning normally day-to-day.

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