The growing number of young people with mental health issues is worrying me. I see young people everyday who are struggling; they don't know what to do, their parents don't know what to do and the schools are finding it difficult to cope. We need a system that is much more able to support those young people who need it.
I also see young people who have diagnosed themselves with mental illness. It sometimes feels to me that in our attempt to take mental illness seriously, which we absolutely should be, we have ended up categorizing every challenging emotion as a mental illness and that is simply not true. Supporting our children to deal with uncomfortable emotions is as important as making sure children get the right diagnosis and support.
So how can you help your child understand the difference between depression and sadness?
1. Do they still show an interest in the things they use to enjoy?
A clear sign that a child may be suffering from depression over a bout of sadness is Anhedonia. Anhedonia is the loss of interest in previously rewarding or enjoyable behaviour. If your child is still enjoying all the things they previously did then they are more likely to be sad rather than depressed. If their love of reading has stopped, or their social life has been replaced with locking themselves in their room, then there might be cause for concern. Check first to see if there is any other reason for their apparent withdrawal from the world and their hobbies; ask how they feel about it and suggest getting some support for them.
2. Does there sadness link into one event or is it general?
While depression can absolutely be triggered by one event the overwhelming sadness tends to be in general rather than over a specific event. While they may play certain events over in their mind, they can't pin their sadness down to one particular thing. Children with depression find it difficult to pin their sadness to one event while children who are just sad are often able to. While this of course is no clear indicator it is a starting point for a conversation and may help you explain to a child the difference.
3. Sleeping and eating.
If you notice a sudden change in your child's sleeping and eating habits, this is a sign to beware that something more might be going on. Someone who is just sad overall will retain normal sleeping and eating habits. Depression on the others hand can have a very disruptive effect on sleeping, eating or both and can continue for a period of time. So if you notice a change in these habits then it might be time for you to seek help for your child.
4. Self loathing thoughts.
While normal teenage behaviour can be quite self-loathing and someone who is sad because of specific events may hate themselves for the way they reacted to something, children with depression tend to have almost constant self-loathing thoughts. They find it so hard to see the good in themselves. They think they are awful, that no one cares and this self-loathing will often lead to thoughts of self-harming and suicide. Any signs that your child is having any of these thoughts should be an indication to you to help and support as soon as you can.
This list is not exhaustive and if you have any concerns whatsoever about your child you should seek help, I think it is a great starting point for us to talk with young people about the difference between sadness and depression. While feeling sad may suck it is not the same as depression.
If you have any concerns about your child them please visit Young Minds or call the parent's helpline 0808 802 5544