Kids and teens with learning and attention issues can face many challenges. So it’s no surprise if they occasionally become sad, frustrated or angry. Sometimes though, negative feelings can continue for weeks or months. When that happens, it can be a sign of clinical depression.
It’s important to take signs of depression seriously. Depression can make it harder for kids to function day to day. Left untreated, it can grow worse and possibly lead to destructive behavior like substance abuse and, in severe cases, suicide.
Fortunately, there are safe, effective treatments for depression. The most important thing you can do is stay tuned into your child so you can get him help promptly if you see cause for concern.
Learning Issues and Depression
Depression can strike anyone, at almost any age. It affects approximately 2 percent of children before they hit puberty and 5 to 8 percent of adolescents.
Researchers have long believed kids with learning and attention issues are somewhat more at risk. And although some experts are now questioning that belief, there are certain risk factors that kids with learning and attention issues face:
- Processing deficits can make it more difficult for children with learning issues to cope with problems and challenges in life.
- Embarrassment and isolation in school can hurt children’s self-esteem and make them feel victimized and lonely.
- Differences in brain chemistry may make kids with learning and attention issues more vulnerable to depression.
What to Watch For
It’s good to know the potential causes of depression. But what matters most is helping kids who are suffering from it. That’s why it’s important to be able to spot the signs in your child. It’s also important to listen when friends, teachers, or relatives suggest that your child may be depressed.
Warning signs to be concerned about in your child include:
- Extreme sadness
- Not taking any interest or pleasure in most or all activities
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Restlessness or exhaustion
- Low energy
- Feeling worthless
- Difficulty concentrating (more than usual, if your child has attention issues)
- Thoughts of suicide
What to Ask Teachers to Watch For
How kids behave in school and how they interact with other students can say a lot about their emotional state. But busy teachers, particularly in middle or high school, juggle many classes. They may not always notice if one student is sad or withdrawn.
That’s why it’s important to stay in contact with your child’s teachers if you have concerns. Questions to ask include:
- Is my child making progress academically? Is his performance about the same or getting worse?
- Is he interacting well with others or is he withdrawing?
- Does he appear mostly happy while he’s at school, or is he sad?
- Does he seem tired?
- Does my child have a positive or negative attitude toward school?
Feedback that your child is doing worse, is withdrawn, sad or tired, or has a negative attitude are red flags. If that’s what your child’s teacher reports, you may want to request a meeting with your child’s resource team. You may also think about having your child evaluated for depression by a professional.
What to Do If Your Child Seems Depressed
If your child shows signs of depression, the best thing you can do is to take him to see a mental health professional. It could be a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. If the professional finds that your child is depressed, you may hear about a number of effective treatments.
Medication and counseling can relieve symptoms and teach kids coping skills. They work best when used together. It’s also a good idea to continue to work with your child’s teachers to watch his behavior as he responds to the treatment.
Mental health care can be expensive. Your insurance may not cover it and you may not be able to afford it on your own. But your child may still be able to get help. Some kids with learning disabilities are entitled to counseling under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
If your child seems depressed, you can work with his school and mental health professionals to find out what’s happening. Together, you can come up with a plan to get him the help he needs and deserves.