While the inertia of depression may make it difficult, a mentally ill adult is able find a caregiver and make an appointment, or muster the courage to ask somebody else to do it. Even without insurance, an adult in the throes of despair can call 911 or go to an emergency room.
Children, on the other hand, often lack the awareness, self-expression and self-determination necessary to identify their own mental illness, let alone seek care.
Beyond safety, nutrition, proper clothing and education, parents and adults who work with children have an obligation to identify the signs of pediatric mental illness and facilitate treatment.
The following are symptoms of depression in children, according to WebMd:
- Irritability or anger
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Difficulty concentrating
- Aches and pains, stomachaches and/or headaches
- Suicidal thoughts
Children and teens who have bipolar disorder may exhibit these additional symptoms during a manic phase (2):
- Silliness or lack of normal inhibitions in speech or behavior
- A hair-trigger temper
- Reduced need for sleep
But if our own child or a child in our care doesn’t verbalize the more subtle among these symptoms, who among us will notice?
A mentally ill child may fly below the radar if his or her parents are not particularly attuned, or are overwhelmed their own problems— demanding jobs, marital issues, financial problems or addictions.
A teacher managing a group of 30 or more students may not notice the more discreet symptoms of mental illness, such as the inability to plan, organize or use abstract reasoning. (3)
In fact, the tendency to withdraw and to become reserved so often brought on by depression can make a child virtually invisible to a teacher wrestling with more overt behavior problems.
A child who frequently misses physical education classes, who asks repeatedly to go to the nurse when not clearly ill, or who seemingly ignores instructions, may be depressed.