Are You Worried That Your Child May Be Depressed or Have a Mood Disorder?
Has your child been acting withdrawn? Does he or she seem less interested in activities and friends that were once enjoyed? Has your child become less patient, more irritable, or seem to struggle to focus or appear sluggish? Is your child often moody or have large mood swings? Have you noticed poor self-esteem issues, sleep disturbances or an increase or decrease in eating? If your child is younger, has he or she started acting out, become increasingly hyperactive or started acting aggressively toward other children? Has your child recently experienced some sort of trauma or life transition, such as a divorce or a new school? Does your child go from an elevated mood of being very excited, highly irritable, or joyful, while sleeping less without feeling tired; to times of sadness, hopelessness, and not wanting to interact with anyone? Are you experiencing a sense of helplessness and worry – finding that you don’t know what to do or say to help your child feel better? Are you frustrated and/or confused by your child’s behavior – wondering why he or she is suddenly acting in uncharacteristic ways? Are you perpetually exhausted, feeling like everyday is an uphill battle?
It can be a sad and confusing experience to watch a child struggle to feel good – whether new and uncharacteristic behaviors and feelings came on suddenly or without obvious cause, or have shown up gradually over time. You may be trying to pinpoint the root cause of your child’s moodiness, unhappiness, or worry that he or she may be genetically predisposed to depression or another mood disorder, like Bipolar Disorder – especially if there is a family history. Regardless, it can be challenging for everyone in your home – especially your child – when there is no clear understanding of the meaning behind your child’s behaviors. Your child likely does not know why he or she feels so bad most of the time. And, you’re likely mirroring his or her feelings of helplessness as you struggle to figure out what’s really going on and what you can do to help.
Many Children Experience Depression-Like Symptoms
There is a wide spectrum of depression and mood symptoms, which may or may not lead to a clinical diagnosis. Depression in children is common, but can be difficult to diagnose and frequently goes unrecognized by parents and teachers, or gets misdiagnosed as something else. Symptoms of depression are increasingly common in children who have experienced a trauma, major life transition or have a family history of depression or related disorders. Many would agree that Bipolar Disorder is being overdiagnosed in children. After all, what child isn’t moody? A highly trained and experienced BPS therapist can help determine if what your child is experiencing really is a mood disorder. Your therapist will look at the type and severity of the symptoms your child is experiencing and how long your child has been exhibiting certain symptoms, as well as other factors. It’s important that you seek help as early as possible after you start noticing a big shift in your child’s behavior and sense of self or purpose. Experience shows us that early intervention can yield significant and positive results.
Depression and Bipolar Disorder in Children Can Be Very Treatable
Your BPS therapist is there to help you figure out what’s causing your child to feel so bad during a time that we – as adults – idealize as a time that should feel easy, fun and good. Your therapist will work with modalities that are age-appropriate and are tailored to your child and his or her specific needs and personality. There are even very effective approaches and techniques that trained therapists can use to help very young children. What’s important is that your child has a safe and effective outlet to work through and develop an understanding of their symptoms and how to reduce them.
As a parent, you’ll get the support, education and resources that you need to help you navigate a confusing, sad, and often frustrating time. You can learn new tools and strategies, which you can share with your child’s teacher if your child is having problems in school, too.
What you and your child are experiencing now doesn’t have to be a life-long struggle. Getting help early can help prevent symptoms from getting worse. You can prevent behavioral patterns and sad or moody feelings from becoming entrenched. With help, many children have successfully worked through their depression symptoms. They have re-engaged with friends and family. They have learned valuable new skills on how to manage complex emotions, maintain healthy self-esteem and interact in the world in positive and productive ways. Addressing depression and related mood disorder symptoms with a therapist now, while your child is young, can give your child a strong, emotional foundation. It can make them less susceptible to future bouts of depression and other mood issues as they get older. With the right help and approach, your child can feel better and more empowered by being better equipped to navigate his or her emotional future.
But, you still may have questions or concerns…
I’m afraid that my child will be diagnosed with a mood disorder and that medication will be prescribed.
First, there are many treatments that are very effective in helping children work through depression symptoms. Most children undergo therapy for depression and feel much better without any need for medication. If a thorough assessment determines that your child has Bipolar Disorder, medication can be an essential treatment component in correcting chemical imbalances in the brain that can fuel these symptoms.
In the case that all other approaches and strategies are not working, your BPS therapist may suggest that your child meet with a psychiatrist. Your BPS psychiatrist will work closely with you, your child and his or her therapist in order to figure out how to best help and to determine if medication is recommended.
For some children, medication can be very helpful. Many children have experienced remarkable results. If medication is prescribed, you are encouraged to ask questions and gain an understanding of what’s going on biochemically with your child. BPS staff will provide you with the support, information and expert recommendations needed in order to best help your child feel and function better.
Couldn’t this just be a phase that my child will grow out of? Is therapy really necessary?
Your BPS therapist can help determine if your child really is struggling with a clinically diagnosable mood disorder – if their behavior is outside the normal range – and if they could benefit from expert help. If something deeper is occurring, therapy can help your child to better understand the meaning behind their feelings and behaviors and learn more effective coping skills. This can be extremely empowering for children. Getting support and treatment now can also provide them with the building blocks they’ll need to handle difficult situations in the future. They can develop stronger abilities to manage complex emotions, which can prevent a slide back into depression and/or other mood symptoms. It can very effective to address the red flags of these behaviors early on. Doing so can provide your child with a strong emotional foundation. With the right therapist, your child can learn how to better handle life’s challenges, losses, and conflicts in healthy and productive ways.
My child is so young. Is it even possible for him or her to really be depressed?
Studies show that children as young as pre-school age can show signs of depression. However, with early intervention, it is very possible for young children to overcome these symptoms. If your child is exhibiting signs of depression, early intervention is key. Getting help now can help both you and your child learn how to best handle emotions and challenging situations as they arise in the future. Learning skills to understand and manage emotions early can be critically important for a child who may be prone to depression or other mood disorders. From the get-go, they can learn the tools necessary to feel more successful and content in life.
We encourage you to schedule an initial assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director, Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your child’s specific issues are and ensure a good match between you, your child, and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.
You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with children and depression issues.