Have you noticed that your child seems to have a down mood, but also seems angry too? Seems odd, doesn’t it? While it may seem surprising that these two feelings coexist, it actually is quite common for children who are depressed to express it as anger. I like to call it “irritable depression.”
Read below for the signs of irritable depression, and what you can do to help your kid.
What are the signs of irritable depression?
Depression is most easily known by the following signs and symptoms:
- down mood
- lethargic or slow movements
- difficulty concentrating
- sleep too much or too little
- not interested in doing fun things like he used to
Believe it or not, in children and teens, irritability is one of the more common signs of depression.
Have you noticed any of these anger signs (or something similar):
- Lashing out, including screaming and yelling
- Defiant attitude or talking back
- Name calling or being mean to younger siblings
- Throwing things
- Giving you the “cold shoulder”
- Giving short answers
These signs, in combination with the other depression signs in the list above, could be another expression of your child’s depression.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to attribute your child’s irritability to attitude and disrespect, when it actually could be a sign of depression! This is problematic because the way you would address your child’s irritable attitude, is different than how you would treat his irritable depression.
But why can’t my kid control his irritable depression?
You may have noticed when you get in a down mood you also get irritable. Things might get you cranky, or on edge, but you typically can control your emotions so you are not name calling or throwing video games across the room.
This is because you’re an adult, and you have developed the ability to handle your emotions (most of the time anyway, right!).
Controlling anger (called self-regulation) is one of the hardest skills to learn in life. Your child is just beginning to develop his skills of verbalizing his feelings, and learning self control.
How can I help my kid with his irritable depression?
Irritability and anger is a form of communication. In fact, there can be some benefits to a child who yells in your face (as opposed to one who isolates, shuts down, and won’t talk).
So two questions to ask yourself when your child lashes out is “What is he trying to tell me? What is it my son needs me to know?” Maybe he feels a lack of control in his life, or feels frustrated and has no confidence about his grades at school. When you start talking to him, the answer may surprise you.
Finding the reason behind the anger can be a great start to solving the anger. And if you start solving the anger, that may help to start resolving the depression.
Bottom line: There are a few anger/depression behaviors that need to addressed immediately by a medical or mental health professional. If your child is aggressive toward others, a danger to herself (including self-harm or suicidal thoughts or behaviors) call your child’s doctor, therapist, 911, or suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. A professional can help your son with coping skills and help you with how to respond to your child’s behaviors.
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health. Her proudest accomplishment is following her dream of opening up a practice that is designed to focus on the whole family. She currently serves families in Southern California.