Symptoms of Depression in Tweens

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It can be difficult to know if your child is going through a major bout with depression, or is just temporarily down in the dumps. Either way, acting quickly to help your tween, whatever their situation may be, is important.

Kids experience lots of change in their tween years: their hormones are kicking in, their responsibilities are increasing, and their schedules are overbooked. To make things even more challenging, tweens or preteens also struggle with changing family and friend relationships, stress, confusing cultural expectations, and the anxiety that often comes with their approaching adolescence. It's no wonder that so many kids experience occasional sadness or possibly, even childhood depression. Recognizing warning signs of depression in your tween is the first step to getting them the help they need.

Proper depression treatment for preteens is especially important as studies suggest that children who suffer from childhood depression are more likely to use alcohol and drugs. They are also more at risk for engaging in other dangerous behaviors.

Recognizing Depression in Tweens

The first step to helping your child is recognizing that there might be a problem. Unfortunately, the symptoms can be difficult to spot and can be confused with the normal trials and tribulations of growing up.

Tweens are frequently moody. Their changing hormones and emotions can make it difficult to know if they're just going through a phase or something more serious.

While depression symptoms in tweens vary from individual to individual and can differ from those seen in adults, it's not uncommon for depressed tweens to exhibit several of the following behaviors, at one time or another:

  • A change in appetite (eating too much or not enough)
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • Sleeping disturbances like sleeping too much, not sleeping well or avoiding sleep
  • A decline in grades at school
  • Obsession over their body image
  • Feelings of frustration
  • An inability to complete simple tasks
  • Overwhelming guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • A change in normal behavior or personality changes
  • Reluctance to participate in social activities
  • Anger and other frequent emotional outbursts
  • Frequent stomachaches or headaches that don't respond to treatment
  • Body aches that can't be explained or treated
  • An inability to enjoy life and a lack of interest in the future

Many tweens will rotate through the above symptoms routinely, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're suffering from childhood depression. But if your child's behavior lasts for more than two weeks, it could be a sign that their troubles are more than a temporary slump.

If you're unsure about your child's behavior, ask other family members, your child's teacher, and any other adult who has frequent contact with your child for their thoughts concerning your child's behavior.

If you're concerned, don't hesitate to ask your child's pediatrician, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for an opinion.

Depression in children, when left untreated, can lead to a number of other serious problems including drug and alcohol misuse, relationship problems, and even suicide.

Causes of Childhood Depression

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to the development of childhood depression. In tweens, depression can be triggered by a lack of neurotransmitters like serotonin (which help you feel happiness).

A combination of traumatic events (such as divorce, death of a loved one, friendship problems, a family move, etc.) may also trigger depression in some youths, as may a family predisposition to the disorder.

Believe it or not, depression is actually fairly common in tweens with as many as 1 in 30 living with the disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 3.2% of kids between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with depression.

The good news is depression can be treated successfully. With careful monitoring and support, a child experiencing depression has a very good chance of overcoming the condition.

What You Can Do

Visiting with your child's doctor is a must. Your child's pediatrician may recommend that your child seek counseling as well, most likely with a pediatric mental health provider. You may also consider family therapy.

In some cases, counseling is enough to help a child through rough times. In other circumstances, medication may be prescribed as well.

If you think your child is depressed or upset, educate yourself on their social media life. Your child's Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might reveal if something is going on with friends or at school.

Whatever course of action the doctors propose to take, your role is as an advocate and a loving support system for your child.

Talk to Your Tween

  • Listen to your child when they share information about their feelings and refrain from judging.
  • Let your child know that you are there for them whenever they need you.
  • Be persistent, even if you think they have gotten the point. Depressed tweens need to hear that you will be there for them and that your love is unconditional.
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Article Sources

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  1. Conway, KP, Swendsen, J, Husky, MM, He, JP, and Merikangas, KR. Association of lifetime mental disorders and subsequent alcohol and illicit drug use: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016; 55(4): 280-288. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2016.01.006.

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