Although many of the symptoms are the same, grief and depression in children do have some distinguishing differences. If you are unsure of your child’s mental health status, here are a few guidelines to help you determine grief versus depression in children.
Grief is usually short term in children. Depending on the age of the child, the normal grief process may take a few months to a year for the kid to work through. There will be some stages that are the same as those seen in depression, but they won’t last as long. Children who grieve the loss of a loved one will feel anger, denial, depression, acceptance and a need to bargain to make themselves feel better. They may also revert back to earlier behaviors. Whatever the symptom, it shouldn’t last more than two weeks. Older children should be able to identify the feelings with the death.
Depression exhibits many of the same symptoms as grief, but they tend to stick around longer. Anger may be a constant, or there may be continual feelings of hopelessness and sadness. The child may withdraw socially for an extended period of time. Nothing may seem to distract or cheer him up. Appetite and sleep patterns can also change. One distinguishing pattern with eating is that grief stricken people tend to lose their appetite, where depressed people may actually resort to over eating.
Dangers of Depression
For the child who is truly suffering from depression, grief may trigger a major episode. In older kids watch out for drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal behavior. If suicide is a concern, watch for withdrawal, flat emotions, increased acting out behavior or sexual behavior, and morbid themes. If there is any suspicion that your child suffers from depression, seek medical help as soon as possible.