Ewan Gillon: Look for signs your child is depressed

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As a father, the recent pictures of Dylan Stewart dying in hospital shocked me. It was a brave and difficult decision for his parents to release the images. Dylan was just 12 years old with his whole life ahead of him, but he had become depressed after being bullied at school.

Whilst bullying and depression do not always go hand in hand, being bullied can lead to depression, so knowing the signs that your child is depressed is vitally important and can sometimes be hard to spot.

There is a clear difference, however, between depression and low mood as the latter is often experienced as a part of growing up. Statistics show that around one in ten children are affected by depression before the age of 18.

Half of all children with depression get better within a year. Depression is when someone experiences a low mood, loss of interest or enjoyment in activities, and low self-esteem over a prolonged period. Daily life may feel a struggle and they may feel they can’t cope with day-to-day activities.

Signs to look for in children are many and vary. However, common ones include angry outbursts, taking more risks than usual, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite and difficulty sleeping. There are many other signs and concerned parents should talk to their child or encourage them to talk to someone they (and you) trust.

Encouraging them to write down their feelings in a journal can help. Most young people like keeping a diary of their inner-most thoughts. Most importantly, be there for them, however difficult their behaviour may be towards you and other family members. They need to know you love them and are concerned.

The signs of bullying can range from a child becoming withdrawn to them becoming more aggressive towards siblings, a refusal to talk about what’s wrong, not wanting to go to school or not doing so well in their school work. Behaviour can be wide-ranging, depending on the child, and they won’t always want to open up about it, so be patient. A child attempting or threatening suicide is obviously a critical situation and requires immediate and professional intervention.

If you suspect your child is either depressed or being bullied, seek help as soon as possible from your GP, but also your school, family and friends. It’s important to have a strong support network available to help give you the time you need with your child.

Professor Ewan Gillon is a counselling psychologist and clinical director of First Psychology Scotland