Over the past several months we’ve noticed a significant behavior change in our 9-year-old son. He just seems more depressed but we can’t think of any reason why he might be depressed. Should we be alarmed and what can we do?
At this point you don’t need to be alarmed but you are wise to be concerned. The experience of depression falls on a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. The good news is that depression is very common and very treatable.
Depression is a condition that many good and godly people including Moses, David and Elijah struggled with. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written that, “It is interesting to notice the frequency with which this particular theme is dealt with in the Scriptures and the only conclusion to be drawn from that is that it is a very common condition.”
Depression is a God-given emotion that is not in and of itself bad. Just as we have physical pain, depression can be seen as emotional pain that can warn us that something is wrong in our life. Mild depression may be a normal and even healthy response to the experience of loss or of hurt to one's self-esteem.
Many people confuse depression and sadness but they aren’t the same. David D. Burns, M.D., notes that depression differs from sadness in that the depression is more intense, it lasts longer, and it significantly interferes with effective day-to-day functioning.
Many parents are surprised to learn that children can suffer from depression. Some of the more obvious signs of depression include:
Persistent sadness and hopelessness
Withdrawal from friends and extracurricular activities
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Impaired thinking or concentration
Fatigue and low energy
Changes in appetite — either increased or decreased
Changes in their usual sleep patterns (either increased or decreased)
Headaches, stomachaches or other physical pains that seem to have no cause.
If your son has several of these symptoms and they continue to be present it would be wise for you to see a licensed professional counselor or a physician who is trained and experienced in dealing with emotional problems in children.
In the meantime be careful not to “label” him but talk and laugh with him, be physically active with him, engage in activities that in the past have been enjoyable for him and last but not least, pray with him and pray for him. Know that with God’s help the prognosis is good.