Sadness vs. Depression in Children
Feeling sad is a normal part of life and can help teach children how to regulate emotions. It might be what you think of as a “case of the Mondays,” meaning it’s temporary unhappiness or feeling down within the context of discouragement, disappointment, or grief. When sadness sets in for prolonged periods of time and it lingers and worsens, and children appear unhappy or unusually irritable for at least 2-4 weeks and feel as if fun has been taken out of their lives, parents or caregivers should be concerned about depression. Everyone experiences depression at some point in their lives. Depression lasts for longer periods of time than sadness and significantly impacts daily functioning. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, depression is “a mood disorder that is marked by varying degrees of sadness, despair, and loneliness and that is typically accompanied by inactivity, guilt, loss of concentration, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” It’s usually a result of common experiences, such as increased stress and/or an emotional event, such as loss of a loved one. In children, depression is linked to poor school performance, impaired social relationships, and an increased recurrence of depressive episodes and/or depression as they age.
What?!? I Thought Young Children Can’t Get Depression. Information & Statistics You Should Know.
Mental health professionals once thought children could not experience depression because they were not cognitively or emotionally mature enough. But children, even those very young, can have depression. Parents, caregivers, and teachers are often the first to recognize symptoms in children, with some cases being obvious and easily recognizable. Research suggests depression rates are rising and have done so significantly over time. Current views are that depression often begins in childhood. It is likely that 1 in 11 children will experience depression is some form by 14 years old. Overall, approximately 8% of the U.S. population (or approximately 19 million) have experienced at least 1 depressive episode within the last year. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 3.2% of children (approximately 1.9 million) ages 3-17 have diagnosed depression. Studies show depression is 2-3x more likely in girls than boys.
Causes of Depression
Our children are stressed in many ways, such as dealing with implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, social challenges (especially bullying and difficulties with peers) academics (especially inability to keep up with peers/grade level), physical changes and development, social media and its influence, wanting to fit in and be accepted, and the 24-hour news cycle focused on negative headlines. It’s no wonder our children are showing signs of depression.
An imbalance of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin; changes in the amygdala and hippocampus (brain structures involved in emotional and behavioral regulation, learning, and memory).
Negative thought patterns, negative self-talk, and poor self-esteem.
Females experience depression at a significantly higher rate than males. It’s believed to be related to hormonal changes throughout a woman’s life.
Depression is more likely to occur along with certain illnesses or disorders. Anxiety and depression often cooccur.
Some medications can have side effects, including depression.
Family history of depression increases the risk of developing it.
Life events (trauma, divorce, death of a loved one, loss of job, moving, stressful family environment, exposure to someone with a substance use disorder) contribute to clinical depression.
Contributing Factors to Developing Depression & Signs by Age-Group
Let’s look at when we should be concerned as parents. When looking at behaviors, be aware of what is typical for your kid. Especially note things that seem out of the ordinary and are causing avoidance or extreme distress for your children. The more risk factors present in children’s home and school environments, the more likely they are to develop depression.
I hope that you found this information on young children with depression helpful. Don’t miss our next blog, Crying all the Time, Lazy, and Weak: Myths About Childhood/Pediatric Depression.
For more information on Small Town Counseling services for children and teens, what to expect, and/or scheduling an appointment check out our Child and Teen Counseling Services or call 209-968-1707. FAQs and resources for depression are available in our Good Reads! For additional parenting resources visit Parenting Resources.
Sadness and Depression in Children 12 and Under: Facts, Causes, Contributing Factors, and Symptoms is written by David Cayton, M.A, M.S.. David has experience as a mental health professional working with children, teens, and professionals, an academic advisor, education-based research assistant, and student affairs at colleges and universities. At the time of this publishing, David Cayton is Trainer and Research Associate at Small Town Counseling® a group mental health practice located in California that helps individuals, groups, and organizations in promoting mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved on November 10, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html
Illinois Department of Public Health Women’s Health. Facts About Depression. Retrieved on October 26, 2021, from http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/womenshealth/factsheets/dep.htm
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (n.d.). Depression. Retrieved on November 10, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/depression
National Alliance on Mental Health. (2017). Depression. Retrieved on November 10, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression
Nip in the Bud. (2018). Depression in Children. Retrieved on November 18, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWC2JKYjMOk
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Sadness. Retrieved on November 10, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadness