From the moment our children enter the world they become (more or less) our top priority.
Even when they’re fully grown and have children of their own, most parents never truly stop worrying about them.
That worry only gets worse when we see our children struggling with low mood or anxiety.
The challenge for parents is that, as time goes on, we know less and less about our children. They naturally become more independent and begin to keep secrets. It’s not malicious; it’s just part of growing up.
That makes it really difficult to determine if our children have depression or just going through the growing pains of life.
The risk is, however, what could be perceived as the ‘moody teenager’ phase is hiding something far more serious.
One in ten children aged between 5-16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. This, in the UK works out at around 3 children for every class room in the country.
On average, one in every thirteen young people deliberately self-harm.
With half of all adults with mental health issues diagnosed during childhood, it’s so important to identify those individuals experiencing challenges.
What are the Signs?
The hard thing about identifying whether or not your child has a mental health issue is that children and young people go through an extended period of change.
Their minds and personalities are constantly developing and what could be a sign of depression could just be a brief period of social awkwardness.
Ultimately it comes down to how well you know your child and how marked the change in behaviour is. However, some of the signs to look out for are:
- Irritability or anger
- Continuous feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
- Withdrawn behaviour
- Highly sensitive to rejection or bad news
- A sudden increase or decrease in appetite
- Outbursts or crying
- Poor concentration or diminished comprehension
- Signs of self-harm (read our blog about self-harm for guidance on this)
- A lack of interest in doing things, especially activities they normally enjoy
Not all children will exhibit obvious symptoms and not all children will exhibit all of the above if they do. Try to reflect on their behaviour now verses how it’s been in the past and identify any instances that have given you particular cause for concern.
What can I do?
Whilst you, or any parent worth their wrinkles, would undoubtedly offer yourself as a source of support for your child, if they are experiencing depression they may not feel like they can talk to you.
Worse still they may simply not know what to say. Considering over 8,000 children in the UK, under the age of 10 suffer from severe depression it’s not always as straight forward as opening up.
The best form of support you can give to your child is:
Patience: Your child is going through an intensely difficult, scary and lonely journey. They may want to speak up but it could take time for them to find the words.
Think of it like being on board a very small, vulnerable ship during a storm. They are shipping water by the bows and all they can do is put all their energy into keep afloat. If there’s a break in the storm then they can think about making a distress call.
The hard part is being patient in the face of challenging behaviour. Their struggle may cause them to lash out or misdirect their frustrations. Reacting or retaliating to that will only widen the gulf you already feel. As heart breaking as it is, turning the other cheek – unless they’re presenting a danger to themselves or others – is the best approach.
Love: It may seem obvious but just letting your child know that you love them makes all the difference.
Sadly, if their self-worth is so low it may seem almost painful to hear and it may even prompt a negative reaction designed to make you chastise them.
Resist that urge because all it does is deepen the hurt on both sides and widen the gulf between you. This worsens their isolation and reinforces their view that they don’t matter.
Challenge: Now for the tricky part…
By challenge we mean question any negative statement your child makes about themselves. Don’t tell them off as that will only make it worse, but highlight all the positives over the negatives in order to help them think differently.
It may not be well received but understand that there is no quick fix. As remarkable as the human brain is at fixing itself, it does not happen overnight.
Similarly, if you see any signs of self-harm, reach out for professional support.
The most important thing you can do is get advice.
Your child may not be ready to speak to anyone but reaching out to mental health services to get as much guidance as possible will help you take the next steps.
You are in the impossible situation where you want to respect your child as an individual but also do what’s best for them. Some tough decisions may have to be made.
A quick Google search for children centred mental health services in your area will undoubtedly yield results or alternatively speak with your GP as the first step.
If, however, you feel your child is in real danger or harming themselves – including ending their life – or a risk to others, consult your GP, dial 999 or Google your local mental health crisis numbers who should be able to advise or signpost you to relevant support.
Encompass Dorset are experts in supporting individuals with enduring mental health issues. If you feel that you or someone you care about would benefit from out support, review our services and get in touch with us today.