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How to Help Your Child With Depression

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Updated September 30, 2011

Although there's a myth that childhood is a carefree, happy time, even children can feel deep sadness and depression. Here's how you can help your child cope with feelings of depression.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. Reassure your child that depression is not something to be ashamed of nor is he crazy. All of us feel sad in response to sad situations. Some of us have an illness that makes it harder for us to recover from sadness.
  2. Give your child the right to have these feelings. Children can easily get the idea that it's not okay to feel depressed and start to hide their feelings rather than deal with them in a healthy way.
  3. Tell your child the truth. We instinctively want to protect our children from pain, but kids are very adept at picking up when something is wrong. By being honest with them we allow them to work through the pain.
  4. Give your child time to grieve, even over the small things. A pet hamster may seem like a small thing to you, but may a big deal to a child who has never dealt with loss before.
  5. Pay attention to your child's symptoms. If the symptoms are lingering for an extended period of time or you are seeing severe changes in their personality, it may be time to seek professional help.
  6. Teach your child it's okay to ask for help when they need it. Give them a list of people they may talk to such as yourself, a teacher, or counselor.
  7. Don't minimize your child's feelings. It may seem small to you, but what counts is how it feels to him.
  8. Although childhood suicide is rare, it does happen. Always take it very seriously if your child says he feels like he wants to die.
  9. Be aware of the impact your own responses to life are having on your child. Your child learns coping skills by watching you.
  10. Talk to your child about the mechanics of depression in terms that he can understand using vocabulary appropriate to his age. (See Related Features for some helpful articles)

Tips:

  1. The fact that your child is depressed does not automatically mean he will need drugs. Many children respond well to therapy alone.
  2. If you are uncertain where to seek help, your child's school counselor or your family physician can give you a referral.
  3. Symptoms to look for: sadness, irritability, loss of pleasure, change of appetite, change of sleep habits, tiredness, feelings of worthlessness, thoughts of death.
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