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Depression in children and teens can be a serious issue. According to Mental Health America, 16% of youths (ages 12-18) reported experiencing at least one episode of depression over the last year. As a mood disorder that causes sadness and can be present every day for 2 or more weeks, depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States.

Children and teens may have difficulty talking about or describing how they feel. They may also try to hide how they are feeling because they don’t want to bother or upset you. However, there are common symptoms that you may notice in your child that can help you start to open a conversation with them about how they are feeling. Here are some common symptoms that your child may be experiencing when they are having an issue with depression.

Symptoms of depression

The first two common symptoms of depression are:

  • They seem sad and irritable, and this has been present for at least 2 weeks
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities that used to make them happy

Other signs of depression that you may notice:

  • Struggling at schoolwork
  • Spending more time alone and less time with friends
  • Having a difficult time focusing
  • Appears to have less energy or motivation to complete simple tasks
  • Cries more easily and expresses more guilt or worthlessness
  • Change in sleep patterns (trouble sleeping or being tired all day)
  • Changes in eating patterns (eating too much or too little)
  • Showing self-injury or self-destructive behaviors

Teens may also experience these symptoms with depression:

  • Hopeless about their future
  • Lacking interest in personal hygiene
  • Engaging in substance use/abuse

Conversation starters

If you have noticed some of these symptoms in your child that are lasting more than two weeks, then the next step is to ask them about how they are feeling. Some simple conversation starts about mental health are:

  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately, what’s going on?”
  • “Seems like you haven’t been yourself lately. What’s up?”
feelings thermometer, child depression
Credit: Wisconsin Office of Children's Mental Health

It is very important to talk openly with your child about how they have been feeling. Encourage them to share their feelings with you. Asking a direct question is the best way for your child to open up about their feelings.

One tip for you as a parent is to listen without judgment to the concerns that your child is expressing to you. Don’t minimize the feelings that your child is sharing with you.

Using a “Feelings Thermometer” is a great tool to start working with your child on how they are feeling. This tool is located on the Office of Children’s Mental Health website.

Next steps

What can I do if my child or teen seems depressed?

  • If your child or teen reports symptoms lasting more than 2 weeks, consult your child’s doctor for an evaluation to determine if further treatment may be necessary.
  • Educate yourself about depression and community resources including mental health professionals that can help by visiting the Racine County Family Resource website.
  • Support your child during this time by being healthy. This includes healthy eating and sleeping patterns, physical outdoor activity, focusing on their strengths, and mindfulness or relaxation exercises.

Suicide plans, prevention and professional help

Depression can lead your child to think about suicide or develop a suicide plan. According to the CDC, suicide is among the leading causes of death for youth ages 10-24. If your child is expressing suicidal thoughts, this is the time to reach out for help. In our Racine community, you can call the Racine Crisis line at 262-638-6741 or call the National Suicide Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8 to receive help from trained professionals.

Occasionally being sad or feeling hopeless is a part of every child’s life. When your child or teen feels persistent sadness and hopelessness, they may be experiencing depression. Depression is treatable and the key is to notice symptoms early. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing depression, talking with your child’s doctor or child’s school social worker or counselor is a wonderful first step. These professionals can help to ensure that your child receives the support that is needed.

Julie Hueller is the Manager of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. This collaborative group consists of “community leaders, members, youths, and lived experience partners” that are dedicated to addressing the mental health and addiction issues, including prevention, of the youth of the Greater Racine area.

The mission of the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health is to assist in creating innovative solutions through community collaborations to meet the unmet mental health, addiction, prevention, and early intervention needs of our Racine County children and their families.

Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health website

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