Could my child be depressed?

‘I think I’m depressed’. School counsellors are hearing students say this in the past few years. Before that, it was unusual for kids to use the word ‘depressed’, though that may have been an accurate description of their feelings.

Increased awareness, public discussion, and the availability of simple online questionnaires have enabled easier recognition and labelling of mood states.

How would you recognise depression in your children?

A big survey of 3000 Australian young people shows that parents/carers may not realise when their kids are depressed.

When young people (aged 11-17) were asked directly, one in 13 (8%) had experienced depression in the previous 12 months, with higher rates among girls than boys. That’s about 2 in every classroom.

But two-thirds of those depressed kids said their parents/carers knew little or nothing about their feelings.

Depressed youth also had the highest rates of self-harm and suicidal behaviour.

Girls aged 16-17 were particularly at risk, with 20% of them experiencing depression compared to 7% of boys. Girls had high levels of distress (36%) and self-harm (17%) at more than twice the rate of boys. In this age group one girl in 20 attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

Having time to notice anything in these days of overwork and constant distraction is hard. But tuning in to your child and thinking about what you observe and hear is important.

Key things to notice are, obviously, sadness, but also irritability; loss of interest in things that used be fun; changes to sleep or appetite; loss of concentration; poor self esteem; self-harm or unsafe risk-taking; and any talk that might indicate suicidal thinking.

While it’s easy to dismiss signs of distress as typical teenage moodiness, it’s better to have a non-judgmental talk, at least opening the door to conversation.

It’s also good to avoid giving pat answers which basically say ‘you’ve got nothing to be unhappy about’. You can hear the slamming shut of the mental door, and maybe the physical one, in reaction to that.

On this website there is advice on sources of information and support (Current families > Counselling).

Reference: Young Minds Matter: Depression, psychological distress, self-harming and suicidal behaviour in Australian adolescents

Martin Graham
School Counsellor