Childhood mental health issues are not something that magically go away just because you're a grownup now. If you had depression as a kid, even if it was acknowledged and you had therapy, it still can revisit you as an adult. Now that you're older, you may start to see some signs of childhood depression return, or maybe even be surprised to find out that what you may be feeling may be depression at all.
Depression as an adult may feel similar to things that you felt as a child: low energy, the inability to make decisions, and even that low-self esteem you struggled with as a teen and chalked up to normal teen angst could all be subtle signs of depression. If you were officially diagnosed back then and are aware of your mental health triggers, you may have an easier time recognizing depression as such if it returns now. But it's also possible that sometimes symptoms of depression in childhood are so subtle they are missed or are written off as something else, according to Dr. Diane DiGiacomo, a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice in New York.
It's also common for someone who had severe medical issues as a child to have depression. Sometimes when everyone is so busy tending to the physical side, the mental health part of it can get ignored and buried until adulthood.
Furthermore, women with childhood depression may also find they are more susceptible to postpartum depression. Dr. DiGiacomo warns that even if this doesn't hit you after your first pregnancy, there's still a chance you can be affected after subsequent pregnancies. She also says that in people who have depression before puberty, there's a higher rate of bipolar disorder in adulthood.
When an adult or a child presents signs of depression, it's important to have a medical evaluation and rule out infection, tumors or neurological issues, Dr. DiGiacomo recommends. She also suggests you seek help if you are depressed, as suicide is the leading cause of death in women 10-34 years old. If you are concerned about the severity of your own depression or someone else and suicide is a concern, seek medical help immediately, but also make sure to take safety precautions, including eliminating firearms and medications from your house.
Depression is very treatable, both with talk therapy and pharmaceutical help. Because it's not a visible illness, many people doubt themselves and put off seeking treatment — especially mothers who often put their needs after everyone else's in the family. While it may seem more convenient to try to soldier through, it's vital for you to get help (seek out a psychiatrist or psychologist) if are concerned about your well-being. You can also visit The National Alliance on Mental Illness for tips to help you find the right specialist.
If for whatever reason you are trying to pinpoint if you were depressed as a child (perhaps you're not feeling so great now and trying to see if there is a connection to your adolescent years) here are some signs that suggest you suffered from childhood depression.
1. Physical Complaints
When you were a kid, you may have had frequent stomach aches or headaches. It's possible that the adults in your life recognized them as possibly having emotional involvement or maybe they just treated them with Advil or Pepto Bismol and sent you on your way. As an adult, it's easy to write off stomach aches and headaches as being merely physical ailments, but if they persist, Dr. DiGiacomo says they might be linked to your mental well-being.
2. Low Self-Esteem
When you were younger you may have had times where you felt less-than. Is that feeling back? Depression and low self-esteem are often linked, according to clinical psychologist Alice Boyle, PhD, author of The Anxiety Toolkit. A feeling of worthlessness is one of the symptoms of depression, she writes.
3. Guilt For Things Totally Unrelated To You
Dr. DiGiacomo says that often a depressed person blames themselves for things that couldn't possibly be their fault, like apologizing for the weather or feeling responsible for a delayed train. In kids, we see it in things large (a parent's divorce) and small (someone else breaking a glass). If you find yourself doing this again, it might be worth looking into.
4. No Energy
There may have been times as a kid or a teen where you felt kind of blah, with no desire or ability to do anything. There may even have been moments where you were overwhelmed by that feeling that you couldn't get out of bed in the morning to get to school. If you again find yourself bored, having no desire to plan or do anything, difficulty making simple decisions and just plain unable to get out of bed in the morning, this could be a sign that the depression is back. Dr. Charles Dibattista, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, feels that these problems, termed "executive dysfunction" are treatable with medication and therapy.
5. Decreased Interactions
You may consider yourself a social butterfly now, but if there were chunks of time during your childhood where you sat in a dark room, unwilling or unable to engage with anyone, and not interested in making friends, that could have been attributed to childhood depression. It's normal to want to stay in once in a while or to hunker down in the winter with your immediate family, but entirely withdrawing from most human contact can be concerning. A depressed person at any age can be very uninterested in interacting with other people, according to Dr. DiGiacomo.
6. Change In Mood
Kids and especially teens often suffer from mood swings or sudden feelings of despair, ranging from mild to extreme. If you currently find yourself exceptionally tearful or irritable, this could be normal mom-exhaustion but it could also be a sign of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health has a list of the signs of depression and the first one is, "persistent sad, anxious, or 'empty' mood." Persistent is an important word, as it's on the normal scale to feel sad once in a while, especially in reaction to something, but if it really continues for a while, it could indicate something more serious is going on.
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