Every parent wants their child to be happy and healthy. They want to see their child playing with buddies and laughing about something silly that happened at school. They want their kid to be carefree. Unfortunately, for children and adolescents who suffer from depression, that isn’t always possible.
Today, May 9, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and a perfect opportunity for parents to speak to their children about emotional and behavioral health.
“From birth, we are developing skills to regulate our emotions and behaviors,” said Kari Welch, a licensed clinical professional counselor with the Children’s MOSAIC Project, a program of The Children’s Center. “As a parent, it is critical to respond to an upset child without judgment or criticism for what they are feeling, and help them recognize healthy ways to express uncomfortable emotions.”
When it comes to depression, prevention begins with teaching children that their feelings are never wrong and modeling healthy coping skills to manage sadness, anger, confusion and fear.
“Symptoms of depression can look different in children than in adults,” Welch said. “Children communicate feelings through their behavior, and may have an increase in temper tantrums or emotional outbursts when they are feeling depressed.”
Some common signs of childhood depression include loss of interest in activities a child once found enjoyable, changes in sleep patterns and appetite, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, increased irritability and crying and feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.
Many parents will say their child, especially a teenager, demonstrates symptoms of depression on a regular basis. So what’s normal and when should a parent be concerned?
“I recommend that a parent seek help from the family’s pediatrician or a mental health professional when the symptoms begin to interfere with the child’s ability to function socially or in school or when the symptoms negatively impact relationships with friends and/or family,” Welch said. “A parent also needs to look for behaviors that are non-typical for their child. For example, if your child is usually smiling and talkative, and now you are noticing them being quiet and reclusive, this could be an indicator to get professional assistance.”
Welch offers these tips for parents to help their child who is depressed:
- Recognize changes in your child, and inquire about what they are thinking, feeling or experiencing.
- Offer reassurance and assist your child with identifying healthy ways to manage negative thoughts and feelings.
- Provide support and structure.
- Seek professional help. A mental health professional can assist parents and children with coping strategies to reduce symptoms of depression. Therapy can help reduce negative thinking patterns that lead to depressive symptoms.
Want to put help raise awareness about childhood depression and other mental health issues? Lace up your sneakers for the Road to Recovery 3K/5K Walk-Run on June 29 in Washington Park. There are three registration options: Individual, Youth (12 and under) and Team (maximum of four people). This family-friendly event is sponsored by the Children’s MOSAIC Project; The Children’s Center, a program of Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois; Lincoln Prairie Behavioral Health Center; and NAMI Springfield. Register online at MHCCI.org.