5 Early Warnings Signs of Depression in Children


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It can often be difficult to determine if a child is experiencing depression or normal emotional ups and downs. However, being attentive to changes in a child’s mood or behaviour can help identify early warning signs of depression. Catching symptoms early on allows parents and caregivers to provide support and seek treatment before depression worsens. This article explores five early red flags that may indicate a higher risk of depression in children.

early warnings signs of depression in children

Change in Academic Performance

A noticeable and prolonged dip in academic achievement can signal that a child is wrestling with depression. Straight-A pupils abruptly earning Cs and Ds or happy students who suddenly hate school may demonstrate that distress is hindering concentration, motivation and cognitive faculties. Teachers often observe these shifts first, so maintaining open communication about potential issues can help identify if a drop in grades reflects internal turmoil.

Withdrawal from Friends and Activities

Children naturally display a spectrum of temperaments, including more introverted inclinations. However, a sudden retreat from social connections and pastimes they previously enjoyed should raise concerns. Self-isolation reflects the sadness, worthlessness and social disconnection often accompanying depression. It also limits access to potential support networks. Understanding the distinction between a child’s baseline personality while recognising abrupt unsociability aids early intervention.

Difficulty Managing Emotions

Intense, frequent and disproportionate negative emotional reactions can also indicate depression, especially if it represents a personality change. For example, small disappointments triggering extreme expressions of anger, crying or frustration can reflect inner anguish. Depressed children often struggle to process and regulate their emotions. They may also have more outbursts toward friends, teachers or family members.

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Too much or too little sleep on an ongoing basis may point to depression. Some children sleep all the time to retreat from the world, while others battle insomnia. Weight gain or loss resulting from overeating or loss of appetite can coincide with sleep disruptions as well. Monitoring sleep and diet changes helps differentiate expected childhood ups and downs from more ingrained issues requiring support.

Self-Harm Ideation

Perhaps the most alarming warning sign involves expressions about self-harm or suicide, including seemingly innocent wishes to not wake up or veiled statements like wondering aloud what it feels like to die. Children battling depression often feel helpless and hopeless, spurring thoughts of self-harm. All comments along these lines warrant immediate intervention via professional mental health resources. Caught early, depression’s impact can be greatly minimised.

Depression in Foster Children

Children placed in foster care or with adopted families after experiences of abuse or neglect may have a magnified risk of depression. The trauma of being separated from their birth parents may make them more vulnerable to severe and long-lasting depression triggered by grief, insecure attachments to caregivers and ongoing adversity. Supporting strong new family bonds gives foster children struggling with depression the best chance of resilience, happiness and hope. Speak with your foster agency, such as thefca.co.uk, for support and advice.

Sudden uncharacteristic shifts like dipping grades, social withdrawal, volatile emotions, sleeping issues or self-harm remarks may reflect depression in children. Paying attention to changes from baseline temperament and behaviours allows caring adults to access help before depression becomes more severe. Addressing warning signs early on gives children the tools needed to thrive through life’s challenges.


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