Is It Just a Passing Phase?
It’s not unusual for children to feel down in the dumps from time to time. Knowing this, how can parents tell normal fluctuations in mood apart from serious depression? The answer is in the duration of the depressive behavior.
According to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, children who are depressed experience depressive episodes that last on average from seven to nine months, although some child development experts say depressive behaviors lasting beyond two weeks warrant further investigation. Either way, it’s best to let mental health professionals decide.
Rule Out Physical Illness First
Depression isn’t always to blame for despondent behavior in children. Physiological problems, such as malnutrition, mononucleosis, allergies and other illnesses can all spur irritable moods, fatigue and withdrawal. This is why Rody stresses that parents take their children to the family pediatrician first, before booking an appointment with a mental health professional.
Once common health problems are ruled out at the primary care level, the next step is to get a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for evaluation. In addition to lengthy psychological tests and bloodwork, parents should be prepared to review their child’s entire medical history.
Who Is at Risk?
Although the precise causes of childhood depression are not yet known, studies on adults with depression point to genetic predisposition and environmental influence.