When Grieving Children Become Depressed

basket blur boy child Depression can be a common occurrence during grief. In grieving adults the symptoms of this depression can be very obvious sometimes.  But with grieving children or teens, the depression is not always as obvious.  Because of their limited life experience,  life coping skills and understanding of grief and loss, grieving children experiencing depression will display that emotional state differently than adults.

Children in depression sometimes show the following symptoms

  • prolonged withdrawal
  • apathy,
  • sustained acting out (usually in anger),
  • sustained denial the death has happened,
  • crying spells,
  • rejection of surviving family members,
  • guilt and shame.

Others symptoms in depressed children and teens struggling in grief may be:

  1. Depressed mood – The child’s moods may fluctuate. They may display irritation, anxiety and/or not paying attention to adults. Things that normally held their interest are no longer of interest to them. They may avoid or escape grief by watching TV, playing video games, reading books, etc.
  2. Weight changes – If the child is overeating or has no appetite, take note.
  3. Insomnia or hypersomnia – Changes in sleeping behavior may indicate a problem especially if it goes on for more than a few nights.
  4. Psychomotor or changes in physical movements – Caregivers of children know the normal activity level of their children. If the normal activity changes—either the child is wound up all the time or unmotivated more than usual—can be an indication of depression.
  5. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and low self esteem – Listen to how the grieving child talks about him/herself, their interactions with others, and life in general. Watch for words that convey the message that “I feel guilty,” “I am horrible,” “No one likes me,” “So what?” or “What does it matter?”.
  6. Trouble focusing – The child does not appear to be thinking as clearly as before the loss. Warning signs can be: a drop in school performance, coordination difficulties in physical activities, or inability to memorize or remember.
  7. Self-destructive, hostile or risk-taking behavior – Anger for children comes out in behavior harmful to themselves and others. Hitting, throwing, screaming, pinching or extreme behavior.
  8. Being sick – Depressed children many times are sick children. Frequent stomach aches, headaches and unexplainable ailments are common in depressed children. A physician should rule out any physical causes for the problems in a thorough physical exam.
  1. Emotional overreactions – The slightest rejection or failure may send a depressed child over the edge. Enforce limitations and boundaries on the child’s behavior, but do so in a loving, comforting way.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Christianbook.com.

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX  http://grief-works.org.