How to Spot Anxiety and Depression in Your Child

Last updated on August 29th, 2015 at 02:59 pm

Managing kid stressHow can you determine if your child is experiencing depression or anxiety?  To begin with, you as parents have the most intimate knowledge of your child; so to define “normal behavior” according to some external  “objective“ standard is not only foolish but does not tell you about your own child. The hallmark of any emotional or psychological issues in children is a significant, long term change in your child’s behavior, which cannot be assigned to any particular recent event.  These changes might involve a change in appetite, sleep patterns, social behavior, and school work or attendance.  One might also notice onset of risky behaviors or a lack of interest in the world around him/her.

In those occasions that are clearly visible but also clearly anticipated, such as the loss of a family member or pet, unusual behavior can be expected but for what length of time?  This is indeed the major question and sometimes can only be answered by comparing similar situations in the past that affected your child.  My own feeling is that any such radical behavior might in fact last up to one month or so but really should be expected to diminish after that time.

While some of the observable differences might include lack of interest in things ordinarily enjoyed by your child, sudden intense interest in repetitive movements or “hobbies” or change in temperament may also act as an alert signal.

Your first line of defense should always begin with a visit to your family doctor or Pediatrician who might also have important knowledge about your child.  A total evaluation should be performed to be sure that the changes you see in your child are not caused by physical events.  If your Pediatrician also agrees that this is unusual behavior, or if you feel that even though he/she had a normal medical evaluation, he/she is still showing you signs of emotional distress, your next step might very well be finding a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. You might in fact have difficulty locating a pediatric mental health care provider because there is a nationwide shortage of such people.

If you are not having any luck finding such a person I would suggest you get in touch with your closest children’s hospital and inquire.  Remember you are your child’s best historian, ombudsman and support- don’t sell yourself short.

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Editor’s Note:  Last Friday we published a post about the high levels of stress and depression felt by incoming college students. It cited the results of a nationwide survey and highlighted an alarming trend: our teens are feeling increasing levels of stress and depression in the face of significant academic expectations and life challenges.  In fact over a third “felt overwhelmed” by the many expectations placed on them.  With suicide the third leading cause of death for college-age students, we need to catch this when they’re young – when we can help them learn coping skills to deal with whatever stress they’re feeling…and give them the support they need to know they’re not alone.

About the Author

Dr. Joseph Skoloff received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from The Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He is a past Vice Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, a past Chairman of the Infection Control Committee at the Loudoun Hospital Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In his 41 years as a practicing pediatrician he has kept hundreds of kids and families healthy and safe and plans to continue to do so for years to come. Dr. Joe believes strongly in the combined power of parent and physician working together for the health of their children. He is an advocate for children everywhere and and adheres strongly to the principles of the American Academy of Pediatrics.Dr Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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