Depression might sound like a condition that only adults can suffer from, but it’s actually really common among children and young people. According to the NHS, one in four young people will experience symptoms of depression before they are 19 years old – so it’s something that foster carers need to be aware of.
Depression can affect children of any age and the condition manifests itself in different ways, causing a range of symptoms. In children and young people, the illness is often triggered by stressful life events, such as bullying, parental separation or abuse, though it’s impossible to pin down exactly what has caused the depression and when it began.
Given the long-term impact depression can have on a person’s health and wellbeing, it’s important that they get help as soon as possible. Depression is treatable, so recognising the problem and knowing where to get help for your child is crucial.
In this guide, we take a closer look at depression in young people, showing you the signs to look out for and the ways in which you can support a child who may be suffering from the condition.
- What is Depression?
- What Are the Symptoms of Depression and How Does it Affect Young People?
- How is Depression Treated in Young People?
- What Can I Do to Support a Child with Depression?
Depression is a persistent low mood that lasts for weeks or months at a time and can be very difficult to recover from. It causes feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness that can cause people to lose interest in things they used to enjoy or isolate themselves from those around them.
It can be really difficult for young people to know when they’ve got depression, and it’s easy for parents and carers to dismiss how they feel as a mood swing or grumpy phase that they’ll grow out of. But depression is a real illness with real symptoms, so it should never be ignored or made light of.
While all young people can suffer depression, looked-after children are more likely to suffer from the condition because of their experiences. They may also not feel comfortable confiding in their carer and sharing their feelings, which can make the problem much worse.
If left unchecked, depression can have a long-term impact on a young person’s health and wellbeing, affecting things like their relationships, career or performance at school. It can also make them more likely to start drinking or taking drugs, both of which are used to mask the symptoms of depression.
Depression hits in lots of different ways, ranging from feelings of sadness or lethargy to suicidal thoughts. Many people also suffer physical symptoms because of the condition, and this can make spotting and diagnosing the problem more difficult.
Here are some of the symptoms which could show that your child is depressed:
- Poor concentration and loses focus easily
- Sleep problems – either sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
- Indecisive about little things, like what they’d like to eat
- Lack of self-confidence or an ‘I can’t’ attitude
- Restless fidgeting and hyperactivity
- Talking about feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Teary or persistently down in the dumps
- A sudden change in weight (more or less)
- Talks about self-harming or wanting to die, or actively self-harming
- Eats much more than usual (comfort eating)
These are just some of the ways in which depression can affect young people, and your child may experience all or one of these and still suffer from the condition. Depression affects everyone differently, so even if you don’t think they seem unhappy, other behaviours could show that they are depressed.
Behavioural change is among the biggest ways in which depression affects young people. For instance, if they seem constantly angry or aggressive, or are struggling to concentrate in school due to hyperactivity, it could indicate that they have depression. These types of behaviours are often misdiagnosed as mental health conditions like ADHD, but in reality they could suggest that your child has unchecked depression brought on by negative experiences.
No matter how deep-rooted, depression is treatable. There are now lots of different treatments available which work to improve the symptoms, and also help people live with the condition without it affecting their quality of life.
When it comes to treating depression, family can play a crucial role in helping a young person overcome the condition. By making an effort to understand as much as you can about depression and working to give them the help and support they need, you can make a real difference to how quickly your child is able to recover.
Many people who suffer from depression use a combination of different treatments to cope with the symptoms. These include talking therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Your child’s GP will be able to provide more information about the types of treatment available.
It’s important to be as supportive as you can when you think your child has depression, even if it hasn’t been officially diagnosed by their GP. There are lots of things you can do in your role as a foster carer to help combat symptoms of depression, including:
- Talk to your child about how they’ve been feeling, accepting whatever they say in return without judgement. Encouraging them to talk openly about their feelings is one of the most positive things you can do to help them cope with their depressive symptoms.
- If they don’t want to talk, don’t press it, but make it known that you’re available anytime. It can be really difficult to find the confidence to talk about how you’re feeling when you have depression, and even more so when you’re in foster care. Building trust with your child is what’s needed to help them open up to you.
- Trust your gut feeling and know when to act. Whether you’re a parent or not, you’ll know when something’s wrong with your child. If they seem down, upset or angry for long periods, it could be time to intervene.
- Keep them connected and avoid isolation by making plans and arranging things with you and other family members. They may not seem keen to go out and do things, but encouraging them to do so will be great for their mental wellbeing in the long run.
- Talk to their social worker to find out more about their history and past experiences. This will help you recognise any triggers which may have caused the depression, and generally help you to better understand how they may be feeling.
- Keep other family members in the loop about how your child is feeling. This will create a healthy environment in your home and make it easier for them to cope with the daily stresses of their condition.
Raising a child always presents new challenges, but we’ll be here to help you every step of the way. Read more about the ongoing support and training we offer our foster carers.