Signs your child may be struggling with anxiety, depression

Depression and anxiety often manifest themselves in various ways. (Stock art)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4.4 million children in the U.S. aged 3-17 years old have diagnosed anxiety. Another 1.9 million children in the U.S. have diagnosed depression. How can you tell if your child is one of them?

Badlands Human Service Center Clinical Director Kori Stockie said the symptoms for anxiety and depression are generally the same for adults and children. The center uses the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, in its evaluations of anxiety and depression.

"As far as anxiety, the symptoms are excessive anxiety and worry. The individual or client finds it difficult to control the worry … restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge, feeling easily fatigued or difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance — that can be difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, restlessness or unsatisfying sleep," she said.

According to John Piacentini, PhD, and Lindsey Bergman, PhD, experts from the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Supports (CARES) Center, children with anxiety may exhibit physical, emotional and behavioral signs.

Some physical signs of anxiety to be aware of in your children include: often complains of headaches or stomach aches, even though there’s no medical reason for them, refuses to eat snacks or lunch, won’t use the bathroom except at home, starts to shake or sweat in intimidating situations, constantly tensing muscles, has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.


Some emotional signs of anxiety in children include crying often, high sensitivity, becoming grouchy or angry without an apparent reason, afraid of making even minor mistakes, having panic attacks, worried or afraid about things that are far in the future.

Some behavioral signs of anxiety in children include avoidance of participating in class activities or social situations, seeking constant approval from others, refusing to go to school and staying silent when expected to work with others.

Stockie said the center's counselors look for symptoms that occur often and for several days.

"Everybody has some points where they have some depressed mood, so we’re looking at it most of the day, nearly everyday, looking at it more often than not," she said. It includes a whole host of symptoms beyond just feeling down. "(Other symptoms include) diminished interest or pleasure in things that they used to enjoy or in most activities — again, we’re looking at more often than not — weight loss or weight gain … insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day, psychomotor agitation, fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day, feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness nearly every day, recurrent thoughts of death — not just like a fear of dying but recurrent suicidal idealization without a specific plan or attempt," Stockie said.

She said there are many different forms of depression, some of which are situational.

"There are times where people say, ‘Well, I just kind of feel down,’ and we as counselors, we also look at the situation, so if there’s a stressful situation, sometimes there’s going to be that where we feel a little down or maybe we worry about an upcoming event or there’s a big change in life. There’s lots of different depressions. It doesn’t have to be a major depressive disorder," she said.

Understood is a coalition of non-profit organizations aimed at informing parents about children's learning and attention issues. It lists signs of depression that grade-school children and teens may exhibit.

In grade school, children who exhibit the following could have depression: frequently complaining about aches and pains, developing a negative outlook, talking often about feeling sad or lonely, despite having friends, does worse in school and sports, loses interest in daily activities, spends free time vegging on the couch in front of the TV, isn’t gaining weight at an age when others are growing rapidly.


Some signs of depression in tweens and teens include: seeming distant, closing off emotionally from family and friends, spending a lot of time behind closed doors, uncharacteristically irritable and angry, often lashes out in anger, talks about feeling stupid, worthless or hopeless, obsesses about shortcomings, engaging in risky behavior, has dramatic changes in daily habits, including skipping meals or binging on junk food.

If you're concerned that your child may have anxiety or depression, you can bring them to Badlands.

"We encourage parents to bring their child in. They can come in for open access, have an intake with a mental health professional and then go from there. Everybody’s going to be different; everybody needs something a little bit different," Stockie said.

Related Topics: HEALTH
Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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