If you suspect that your child is suffering from depression, gently probe further by asking them questions like: “Have you been feeling sad?”, “Do you know what’s bothering you?”, and “Have you ever wanted to hurt yourself?”
These “conversation starters” were featured in a recent poster released by Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang, a Malaysian NGO that advocates for women and children’s rights.
The parenting tips poster provides information on how parents or guardians can start necessary conversations with their children on important topics such as depression, and also who to contact should they need further help or information.
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as “one of the most common mental illnesses characterised by feelings of sadness and loss of interest in things that one once enjoyed”.
It can be due to various reasons: abuse, family breakdown or domestic violence, loss of a loved one, or medical/hereditary reasons.
Although common in older children and teenagers, depression often goes unrecognised. Some children reveal they feel “sad” or “unhappy”, while others engage in self-destructive behaviour or have suicidal thoughts.
Children’s NGO Unicef stresses the importance of parents and guardians needing to recognise the signs of depression in children in order to help them.
“Children might feel down at certain points in their life and it’s a natural part of growing up. But it can be a cause for concern if these emotions persist for a long time, especially if they affect the child’s social, family and school life.”
There are physical, emotional and mental symptoms of depression including: tiredness and low energy even when rested, restlessness and difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, persistent sadness or irritability, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
It’s important for parents to recognise the signs and to do something about it. They can also consult a child psychologist or psychiatrist for help.