Recognizing the signs of depression in kids and teens

December 26, 2019

As the rate of suicide climbs, the ability to access shows like 13 Reasons Why without parental supervision grows, and social media pushes an impossible quest for perfection, it has become more important than ever for parents, caregivers, and educators to have a good understanding of what depression is and what the signs are.

As the rate of suicide climbs, the ability to access shows like 13 Reasons Why without parental supervision grows, and social media pushes an impossible quest for perfection, it has become more important than ever for parents, caregivers, and educators to have a good understanding of what depression is and what the signs are. A recent Mott poll of 819 parents from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor shows where improvements can be made to ensure good mental health care.

Children and teenagers are often acquainted with a peer who lives with depression with 1 in 4 parents saying this was the case with their child. One in 10 parents said their child had a peer who had died by suicide.

An overwhelming majority of the parents (90%) said that they felt confident in recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression with 42% of the parents saying that they felt very confident in their ability. However, roughly 65% of the parents said that they faced challenges in recognizing these symptoms.

The challenges included:

·      Difficulty in distinguishing normal ups and downs from depression – cited by 40% of parents

·      Child was good at hiding feelings – cited by 30% of parents

·      Parent and child don’t talk about emotions often – cited by 14% of parents

·      Lack of time spent with child – cited by 7% of parents

·      Unsure of what the signs of depression are – cited by 4% of parents

When it came to whether their child would recognize his or her own depression symptoms, 72% of parents felt confident in the ability, with half of all parents saying that they felt somewhat confident about it. When asked if the child would talk to them or ask for help because of depression, 85% of parents felt it was likely. Many of the parents also felt it was likely that their child would talk to someone else if they were feeling depressed with the most common person being either an adult family member or friend (38%) or a peer (35%).

Asked whether schools should be watching out for depression, 71% of the parents indicated that they felt school should. Forty-seven percent of parents stated that the ideal time to screen for depression would be in the 6th grade and 24% said that they believed that the 7th or 8th grade would be a more appropriate age to have screening for depression.

Discussing the implications of the poll, the researchers highlighted the need for parents to identify a “go to” adult that a child can go to when feeling down in case subtle signs are missed. They also urged parents to discuss screenings with school officials and to become strong advocates for screening and counseling services. The pediatrician can help by offering workshops for parents as well as guiding parents to helpful information online from mental health organizations.