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Mental Health: Depression in Children

Children and adolescents can experience depression just like adults, but it often manifests in different ways with different symptoms. It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, but if those feelings linger for weeks it may be something more serious, like depression. Young children may not fully understand how they are feeling or be able to describe it but will act out in other ways. They may start having problems at school or at home, hitting others, breaking things, expressing low self-esteem, complaining consistently about headaches or other pains, discussing suicide or acting paranoid. If parents notice that their child has been acting differently, start asking questions and pay attention to how they describe themselves or how they depict themselves in drawings. Often children who are depressed may draw themselves away from others or they may talk about getting in trouble a lot. Unlike adults, children may still enjoy some of their favorite activities even though they’re depressed, which can be confusing to parents.

Part of adolescence involves testing boundaries and growing independent, which can make it harder for parents to differentiate between normal changes in behavior and signs of depression. For this age group, it’s important to look for dropping grades, not participating in normal activities, or changes in eating or sleeping habits. Teenagers who suffer from depression are less likely to want to confide in an adult and are better at hiding their feelings than children. Instead, they may look to their friends for coping mechanisms. To help catch depression early, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released new screening guidelines that recommend that all children twelve and older are screened for depression at each wellness visit.

The earlier depression is detected and diagnosed, the better the treatment outcomes. Therefore, if you suspect signs of depression in your child or teen, discuss it with their doctor immediately, as they may need a referral to a behavioral health professional. Fortunately, treatment methods have proven to help children and adolescents overcome depression. Parents can help by talking to their children early about feelings, helping them name them, and by modeling coping mechanisms like breathing exercises.

At Cone Health Outpatient Behavioral Health at Greensboro, our team of highly skilled psychiatrists, counselors, nurses and therapists work to ensure each patient’s recovery from a wide range of emotional problems. Our staff is committed to providing each patient with confidential care that fits his or her specific lifestyle.

Physician Background:

Dr. Alex Eksir is a psychiatrist at Cone Health Outpatient Behavioral Health at Greensboro and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Eksir received his Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Boston University in 2009. He completed medical school at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and his residency in general psychology at Duke University Medical Center.