Q. My fifth grade son has become increasingly withdrawn. Things he used to love, like playing baseball, just don’t seem to interest him. For some reason, he doesn’t seem to be hanging around with his best friend anymore – but he won’t share with me what’s going on. He seems depressed. I just don’t know what to do.
A. You are right to be concerned, as your son may indeed be experiencing depression. Unfortunately, as many as one out of 10 children your son’s age suffer from childhood-onset depression. Depression in children is characterized by a sad and or irritable mood, and may be accompanied by withdrawal from friends and family, loss of interest in enjoyed activities, a drop in school performance, an increase or decrease in appetite, and an increase, decrease, or disruption in sleep.
Although depression occurs more often in females than males during adolescence and adulthood, it appears to be about as common in boys as it is in girls during the elementary school years.Depression tends to run in families, and seems to share a common genetic susceptibility for anxiety disorders. Of course, a down mood by itself does not necessarily constitute depression. Often, children may experience relatively transitory changes in mood in association with life events.
A stressful change in school or neighborhood, learning difficulties, peer conflicts, or trouble at home can all potentially precipitate a drop in a child’s mood. There are also medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, that can induce mood disturbance. For this reason, it is a good idea to bring your son in to see his pediatrician. Pediatricians are trained to screen for childhood-onset depression, and can provide a referral to a child psychologist or other mental health professional for further assessment and intervention. Depression is treatable, and with the right help, your son can get back to enjoying life again!