The obvious signs to look out for when your infant is in a low mood or is unhappy, are excessive crying, fussiness, lethargy and malaise, melancholy, unwillingness to play or smile, unwillingness to interact with parents or caregivers, and unresponsiveness to hugs and cuddling.
If your child is at an age when he is meeting and socialising with other infants, but is unable to do so or has lost interest in new things, then that can also be a sign of depression.
Depression can also be an outcome of some physical ailment that may be plaguing the child. This is more observed at an age when the child is unable to voice his pain and suffering. A thorough medical examination along with counselling may be necessary in such cases.
In more severe and unfortunate cases, a child can slip into depression and stress if he is facing any kind of physical or sexual abuse. He may get scared and withdraw into a shell, if he has been subjected to harm, especially by anyone from his immediate family.
Counselling infants is a much harder task than counselling adults. Infants who can speak may, however, not be able to speak out elaborately on what is troubling them and how they feel on different occasions. Counselling becomes even harder for infants who still haven’t started speaking. In such cases, parents have to regularly observe and monitor their child’s behaviour and note down how they react and respond to different stimuli. A doctor or child-specialist must be reached out to if the baby continues to suffer and appears lost or depressed.
Apart from these causes that accrue to child, there are other reasons in the child’s immediate environment that can act as stimuli in keeping him sad, anxious, and depressed.
Some feel that mothers who have experienced depression or anxiety during the pregnancy stage can be a potential reason for causing depression in their child later on. Pregnant women, who experience depression, sleep disruption, appetite changes, difficulty concentrating, and lack of energy, often refrain from using anti-depressants as they may cause harm to the foetus. Depressed pregnant women are reported to have higher levels of prenatal stress hormones. They have a slower foetal growth and are more likely to have premature delivery.
Newborns of depressed mothers show significantly higher urinary stress hormone, which makes them more stress reactive, temperamentally difficult, and more challenging to care for and soothe. There is also some evidence that children exposed to maternal depression during pregnancy face more social and emotional problems as young children, such as aggression, ADHD, ASD, and other conduct problems.
But pregnancy isn’t the only time that parental stress can affect the development of the offspring. The relationship continues right through childhood. Children are like sponges – they absorb and mirror whatever they see around them in their growing up years.
If they see happy parents, involved in their child, then their brains would associate the emotion of happiness with people close to him. He will respond and react to smiling gestures, cuddling gestures, hugging gestures etc. On the other hand, if a child sees quarrelling parents, or detached parents, his brains would not be able to emotionally and psychologically bond with people around him. This could also be a potential reason behind the child not appearing happy, enthusiastic, and participative in nature.