Self-esteem plays a very important role in the course of depression in children. In fact, some research suggests that low self-esteem puts a child at risk for developing depression, while other theories suggest that depression itself has a negative long-term impact on self-esteem.
Self-esteem is a personality trait that describes how a person feels about themselves. It can range from very low to very high, and for most children remains fairly stable over time. However, rapid changes in self-esteem are thought to contribute to depression in some children.
Vulnerability to Depression
Much research suggests that some people are simply more vulnerable to depression than others. Low self-esteem is presumed to be one of these vulnerabilities, especially when compounded by a negative or stressful event. When a negative event, like the loss of a parent or an accident, occurs, high self-esteem is thought to act as a protective barrier against depression.
Research has shown that children and teens with low self-esteem tend to use alcohol and other substances, and engage in other risk-taking behaviors like unprotected sex, more than their peers with higher self-esteem.
Does Depression Scar Self-Esteem?
Some research suggests that a depressive episode decreases, or "scars," a child's self-esteem, making future depressive episodes more likely.
How to Help a Child With Low Self-Esteem
While not every child with low self-esteem will become depressed, it is important to be aware of the signs of low self-esteem:
- Reckless behavior
- Substance use or abuse
- Risky sexual behavior
- Engaging in volatile or abusive relationships
- Academic decline
Support, love, encouragement, and taking an interest in your child are all integral to her self-esteem and emotional development. However, if you do not see improvement despite your best efforts to build her self-esteem, it is best to seek professional advice given the risk for depression. Early identification of mental illness and effective treatment gives your child the best chance for recovery, and decreases her chances of relapse.
Jonathon D. Brown. The Self. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1998
Linda J. Koenig, PhD; Lynda S. Doll, PhD; Ann O'Leary, PhD; and Willo Pequegnat, PhD. From Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Sexual Risk: Trauma, Revictimization, and Intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2003.
Ulrich Orth, Richard W. Robins, Brent W. Roberts. Low Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Depression in Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2008; 95(3): 695-708.