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Depression in Children: Is it Possible?

by on 05/11/2020 3910

It is not uncommon for children to sometimes feel sad, frustrated, lost or generally “blue”. However, if these moods are prolonged and begin to interfere with daily life, then it may indicate that the child has a depressive disorder.


Depression is a mood disorder that negatively impacts a person’s emotions, thinking and behaviours. Depression is known to be the most common mental health illness in Malaysia and is more commonly found in adults, although children are not an exception. Research has shown that in Malaysia childhood depression has a prevalence of 0.3% to 7.8% for children below 13 years old. Given this rate of occurrence, it is crucial for parents to be vigilant of the signs and symptoms of childhood depression.

Signs and Symptoms

Children with depression can exhibit varying symptoms, but there are three main areas where symptoms can typically be observed; mood, behaviour and cognition. Some typical symptoms include:

i) Changes in Mood: 

  • Easily irritable and angry

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness

  • Feeling fatigued and tired

  • Restless and agitated

  • Feeling worthless and excessive guilt

ii) Changes in Lifestyle / Behaviours:

  • Withdrawal from significant others, friends and family members

  • Poor school attendance or decreased academic performance

  • Loss of interest in activities he/she previously enjoyed

  • Changes in appetite (increase or decrease)

  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping more or less)

  • Physical complaints and aches that do not respond to medical treatment

  • Self-harm

iii) Changes in Cognition:

  • Difficulty in making decisions

  • Difficulty paying attention when performing everyday tasks in school or at home

  • Thinking negatively about him/herself or events happening around them

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Stigmatisation is Real

It is true that mental illness is often stigmatised by society, and even more so for children with mental health issues. It is often wrongly perceived that children with depression are simply seeking attention, or worse, that they are dangerous to others and themselves. Other adults or teachers might also form negative perceptions towards parents of children with depression. These are just some examples of stigmatisation that stop parents from seeking help from mental health professionals. The fear of being judged might also prevent children from sharing their feelings with parents and caregivers, isolating the child even more.

What Can Be Done to Help?

i) Fostering an open and positive environment for communication within the family

Parents often view mental health as taboo, limiting their children’s opportunity to discuss their feelings with them. Children can also develop a skewed perception of mental health – that it is something that only happens to others and not themselves or their family members.

Parents can, however, promote an environment that allows open communication with their children about their emotions and feelings. It is important to help children understand that no emotions are “bad” - instead they serve as an important indicator of thier well-being. When talking about depression, parents can help their child further understand that it can affect anybody, adults and kids alike.

Parents can also share their own difficult experiences with their children, showing them that it’s normal to feel vulnerable and to seek help from others. Being patient and listening carefully will encourage children to be more open in sharing their thoughts and feelings.


ii) Monitor changes in behaviour of children in various settings

Children, especially under age 6, have more difficulty verbalising their feelings, so it is important for parents to observe their child’s behaviour carefully, based on the depression symptoms listed above. It is also important for parents to receive feedback from teachers and other caregivers about their child’s behaviour and academic progress in school. Working in collaboration with teachers can further expand the child’s support system and allow them to access mental health services like school counselling.


iii) Seek help from professional mental health

It is important to remember that depression is treatable with the right support! Therefore, it is important for parents to consult a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to get an evaluation of their child’s condition and also recommendations on treatment and intervention. Intervention could involve therapy with specific approaches like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Visiting a pediatrician or the family’s general practitioner would also to help rule out other physical illnesses that may induce depression-like symptoms. Doctors can also provide referrals to mental health specialists suitable for the child’s needs.

Depression in children should not be taken lightly. It's important for parents to prioritise their child's mental health along with their physical health. In knowing the signs and symptoms of depression in children, parents can access intervention to support their child's mental well-being.

About Oasis Place

Located right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Oasis Place is at the forefront of Malaysia’s educational and developmental intervention services, providing world class, multidisciplinary intervention services to children, adolescents and adults of all abilities and ages. Oasis Place has one of the country’s largest integrated intervention facilities, embracing a client-and family-centered approach.

Oasis Place’s core intervention services include psychology, speech and language therapy, sensory integration occupational therapy, music therapy, continuous education and nutrition. The facility is equipped with modern apparatus, resources, therapy materials and assessment tools as well as a large multipurpose hall, a health café and a fully furnished apartment for the life skills curriculum. Oasis Place also provides continuous education workshops led by numerous international and local speakers to empower parental awareness and professional development, setting a new benchmark in Malaysia’s allied health community.

For more information on our services, please visit our website at , Facebook at OasisPlaceMalaysia ,Instagram and Twitter @OasisPlaceMY

This article has been republished with permission from Oasis Place.

Written by Ong Su Sen, Clinical Psychologist