The D word. That dreaded heavy word holding onto so many. It weighs us down; we feel scattered, maybe angry, and full of tears one minute then numb and isolated the next.
Depression can be an unreal experience or feeling. In adulthood, many find it unbearable and seek out help from family, friends or a mental health professional. It can come with major guilt for some who can’t seem to figure out what is going on and why they are feeling this way.
Try now, if you can, to picture experiencing these things as a very young child. Right now if I were to ask you to describe your depression to me I believe you would be able to do so. That being said you would likely hesitate, question my motives, find it difficult and feel a bit uncertain, maybe even guilty. This is very similar to the experiences and feelings of a child. Guilt, confusion and shame are not solely experienced in adulthood. In our preschool years we may not know the word depression, but that does not mean we don’t experience it.
For a young child (3-5 years) they are likely to experience co-morbidity (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology). With their anxiety, comes depression and vice versa. Some of the signs and symptoms for this age are:
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness and crying (More so than the typical “MINE” mentality that young children exhibit)
- Hopelessness and Isolation
- Increased irritability
- A lack of concentration
- Mentioning or attempting to runaway (yes, children this young do this far more often than people want to admit.)
- A decreased interest in activities they once may have enjoyed
- Major changes in sleep or eating patterns
- And yes…Even thoughts, expressions of self-deprecation and suicide.
Parents and guardians, you know your children. Their mental health is just as important as their physical health. Watch and listen to your child. Do not ignore what you know under the veil of, “it’s just a phase.” It may be but there is a difference between typical childhood frustrations and tantrums than what we’re talking about here.
You are your child’s advocate. After the pediatrician don’t discount your child needing a little extra help from a child psychologist, if things aren’t changing. Yes, even at this tender age.
It is also true that for this age, the 3-5 year old, many times their responses and experiences are a reflection of their primary care givers. Yes, you! I want to bring this last point up because for a parent it can become easy to just push aside some of their own needs. You sacrifice your own well-being for your families. It is to be commended…but only to a certain point. Eventually, you need to care for yourself in order to properly care for those who depend on you. Don’t short change yourselves and in turn do unintentional harm to those depending upon you. You need help too, sometimes, and that’s ok!
Please know your physical and mental health is key when caring for those who depend upon you. Speaking from experience, my life could have been astoundingly different had the people in my life got the mental health help they so desperately needed. Seeking out help makes you strong and assertive, not weak. Contrary to stigmatized beliefs help is help and sometimes it’s necessary. That’s why they say, “It takes a village.”
Keep these things in mind when caring for your most precious of gifts, your children. They love and rely on you so be their protectors and advocates. Listen.
Erika is a freelance photographer from Chicago, IL. She has worked as an entertainment & nightlife writer, as well as a model. Her & her husband now live in Indiana with their ferrets. They are very passionate about animal rescue & rehabilitation. She lives with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) PTSD, Depression & Anxiety. Some of her parts struggle with their own individual mental health problems; an ED & OCD to name two. It took many years but she found her voice and now is actively speaking out against the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of assistance for those struggling to reach out. In addition, she also lives with some limiting physical health conditions which unfortunately have made working impossible. For now, she is focused on her writing, speaking engagements, painting and her small family.
You can follow Erika on Twitter.