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Know the Signs of Depression & Anxiety in Children and Teens

Depression and Anxiety are common mental health conditions that can be found in children, teens, and adults for many reasons. Kids with JDM experience depression and anxiety at 2-3 times a higher rate than their peers.1 We hope that by outlining the common signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, you are better able to support your children.

Depression is a common mental health condition that causes someone to be in a sad or irritable mood for an unusually long period of time. It’s normal for children to feel down when bad things happen, but a child with depression doesn’t feel better if things change. Though depression usually begins during the teenage years, kids as young as two can also experience depression. Girls are diagnosed twice as often as boys.

The biggest sign of depression is a change in mood. A depressed child will feel sad or irritable —quick to anger over very small things — most of the time, and lose interest in things they normally enjoy.2 They might also display somatic symptoms like headaches and stomach aches unrelated to their disease, and therefore harder to diagnose.

Other Depression Symptoms include:

Pre-Schoolers:3

  • cry a lot
  • aren’t interested in playing
  • appear very anxious (see anxiety symptoms below)

School Aged Children:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Lacking energy or being tired all the time
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor performance or poor attendance at school
  • Low self-esteem or saying negative things about themselves
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thinking about or attempting suicide

Teens:

Since adolescents are often moody, it can be difficult to recognize when your son or daughter has become depressed, and might need help. Withdrawal and loss of interest are generally the first things parents will notice. There might be other changes in their mood, including sadness or irritability. Changes in behavior, including, appetite, energy level, sleep patterns and academic performance are also other signs of depression. If several of these symptoms are present, be vigilant about the possibility of teen depression.4

Other signs of Depression in Teens:

  • drug & alcohol abuse
  • a retreat from friends & social events
  • self-harm behaviors
  • thinking about or attempting suicide

Signs of Anxiety in Children and Teens:5 (en Español)6

Anxiety has similarities to depression, but also some differences.7

When a child does not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. These symptoms must be persistent, and almost daily, for 6 months. Examples of different types of anxiety (and their disorder) include:

  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias) (For kids with JDM, anxiety about hospitals, doctors, treatments, etc. are common)
  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
  • Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
  • Trouble concentrating (general anxiety)
  • Tantrums – (young children—social anxiety)
  • Being very self-conscious (social anxiety)

Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.

1curejm.org/dc2018-recap/mental-health.php#knight
2childmind.org/article/what-are-the-kinds-of-depression/
3ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279290/
4childmind.org/article/what-are-the-symptoms-of-depression-in-teenagers/
5cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html
6seattlechildrens.org/globalassets/documents/for-patients-and-families/pfe/pe1492s.pdf
7childmind.org/guide/anxiety-in-children-quick-guide/

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“Even with the best medical care available, children with JM and their families often experience emotional health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and grief. Pediatric rheumatologists want to address these emotional challenges, but often encounter difficulties connecting families with effective support. Cure JM has been instrumental in highlighting the importance of emotional health for children with JM and their families and building resources to foster their well-being.”

Dr. Ardalan

Kaveh Ardalan, MD, MS
Pediatric Rheumatologist Duke University Co-Director, Cure JM Center of Excellence