Causes and Symptoms of Childhood Depression

Depression has ceased to be a disease limited to adults, an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with depression. According to recent studies, up to 2% of children and 4–8% of adolescents show signs of depression.

Although rates of childhood depression have increased significantly in recent years, awareness and acknowledgment of this topic are still lagging behind. In fact, many people continue to doubt whether children can experience depression.

Children, like adults, are able to show sadness and irritability, from time to time to feel a decline in mood or a breakdown. These feelings are a normal adaptive response to certain situations. However, if such negative feelings and thoughts continue for some time and limit the level of activity of a child, perhaps we are talking about depression.

Depression is a disorder that is characterized by a sad mood for most of the day and the loss of a sense of pleasure from most activities that usually brought joy.

Below we will analyze how this disease can manifest itself in children and study some of the causes that can become a factor in the occurrence of this pathology.

Depression in the First Years of Life

The manifestations of childhood depression vary depending on age. So, for example, from 0 to 3 years old, this disease can manifest itself with intense crying.

Some of the factors of childhood depression at this age may be, for example, a sharp rejection on the part of parents or main guardians raising a child during this period, or due to any kind of mistreatment or lack of attention during the upbringing of the baby.

In the case of children aged 3 to 5 years, this disease is less common. However, life experiences during this period may increase the likelihood of such a pathology in the future.

At this stage, children are curious to explore their individuality, as well as to try a certain independence. If parents react in an undesirable way for the child, whether it is excessive control or disapproval, the child will grow up dependent, timid and insecure, having less desire for knowledge and less desire to move into independent life, forming prerequisites for the appearance of depression.

Symptoms of Depression in Puberty

In children from 6 to 12 years old, depressive symptoms appear much more often. The main reason at this age will be a sharp change in the child’s life, for example, moving to another place of residence or changing schools.

The death of one of the relatives or loved ones, the feeling of rejection or the realization that they are loved only for fulfilling the requirements of their parents are also among the most common causes of childhood depression at this stage.

Failures at school, as well as difficulties socializing with other children or problems in relationships with teachers are also among the symptoms of depression at this stage.

Childhood depression at this age can manifest itself in the form of loss of personal self-esteem, that is, afflicted children have a poor idea of themselves and think that they cannot have achievements or they will not succeed in life.

Depression can also manifest itself in the form of prolonged periods of sadness, repeatedly articulated aloud. However, childhood depression at this stage manifests itself not only in sadness; a child with depression can have a bad mood and be irritable, as well as strive for social isolation.

Depression at this age may also manifest itself as inability to endure failures, loss of interest in performing certain activities and periods of hypersensitivity with frequent mood swings.

Depression in Adolescence

Depression manifests itself in adolescents with very similar symptoms to the adult manifestation, namely with frequent loss of self-esteem and negative attitudes.

However, it is important to take into account that in adolescence, mood swings are normal, so first of all a distinction must be made between an actually depressed teenager and someone who is going through a temporary age crisis.

The answer lies in the duration and intensity of the symptoms and, above all, in the persistence of depression after the situation initiating it has already passed.

Factors contributing to childhood depression

In half of the cases of childhood depression, at least one of the parents also had depression. Moreover, the conducted studies determine that children of parents with depression have from 3 to 6 times higher probability of developing this disease, than children of healthy parents.

Even in this case, the genetic factor is not decisive, it is necessary to consider all factors together, such as family environment, social ties and personal abilities of the child.

Some biological factors can also be taken into account when explaining the emergence of depression in children. Changes in the secretion of certain substances, such as serotonin, that occur in patients with depression, are a proven biological fact, although it has not been possible to fully establish whether this is a cause or a consequence of childhood depression.

Regarding social and family factors, the family environment and the social interaction between the child and the parents are some of the most decisive factors of childhood depression.

Some of these social and family factors that may be present when a child develops depression include:

  • Conflicted relations or distancing between parents
  • Divorce, separation
  • Overprotection, usually on the mother’s side
  • Lack of participation of one of the parents
  • Aggressive attitudes or irritability in the relationship between parents and children
  • Authoritarian and oppressive relationship models

Although a child’s relationship with their parents can be considered a social activity and, at the same time, a condition on which their social relations outside the home will be built, there are other psychosocial factors that are remote from the family circle, which can increase emotional stress and contribute to childhood depression.

The spread of childhood depression at the global level has a similar process as adult depression. According to WHO, it is estimated that about 3% of the child population suffer from depression, which can be expressed in about 10% of consultations with child psychiatrists. If it is suspected that a child may suffer from childhood depression, it is necessary to contact a pediatrician, competent in the field of children’s mental health, for urgent care. Adequate and timely treatment can be very effective in eliminating depressive symptoms and reducing the risk of relapses in children.