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Childhood Depression and Art Therapy

Symptoms of depression in children are quite different from typical “blues” and everyday emotions that happen as a child develops. When a child seems sad, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is clinically depressed. However, if the sadness persists, or if behaviors change and interfere with normal interests, activities and schoolwork, it may indicate that he or she has a depressive condition. How can you tell when your child may have a depressive disorder? Sometimes it is brought on by a recent loss such as a death in the family or a divorce, etc. Other times it may be chronic. Symptoms can vary in children. In many cases, it may be undiagnosed and untreated because they are thought of as normal emotional and psychological changes that happen during their development. Studies have focused on “masked” or hidden depression. This is where a child’s depressed mood was evidenced by angry behavior or acting out frustrations more intensely. This happens particularly in younger children, but many other children may show sadness or low mood which is similar to adults who are depressed.


Mood symptoms may include: Irritability or anger, continuous feelings of sadness, social withdrawal, increased sensitivity to rejection, appetite changes, sleep changes, outbursts or crying, concentration issues, and low energy. Addition symptoms may include:Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don’t respond to treatment, inability to function during events and activities with friends, feelings of low self-esteem, guilt, impaired concentration and in sever cases-thoughts of death or suicide.If you sense that your child may be showing signs of depression and you’d like to begin the process of managing their symptoms, consult your pediatrician and seek a referral for a child psychiatrist for further assessment.


Various clinical modalities may be recommended and art therapy may be one of them. Art and play therapy is a unique approach because the strategies and techniques are non-threatening and include child-friendly activities to help the child express their feelings. Sometimes a combination of verbal therapy and art therapy can be a great combination because talking sometimes can be too overwhelming for a young child.

Examples of creative directives

Feelings box: A small cigar box or shoe box can be decorated with pictures, words and stickers that help identify what is going on. It allows the child to use the box as a safe place to put their anxiety, fears, and frustrations. They can include notes and/or images of things that bother them, and then “close the lid” as they let those feelings go for now. This is a metaphor to acknowledge their feelings and let them go.


Mask making: This a great way to explore the child’s “face to the world”. Often the mask can be made with simple materials such as paper plates all the way up to paper mache or plaster gauze modeling. Often, the mask can be decorated on both sides to represent the face they put on to the public (outer side) and then the face they keep hidden (inside). This helps the child understand what may be bothering them and they can slowly begin to heal from the inner pain.


Puppets: Puppets are great for children of all ages, but work particularly well with younger ages. They can be made with all different materials from paper bags puppets, to more intricate designs using felt, or even finger puppets. There are many ideas online. Commercially made puppets also come in handy as well. Children are naturally imaginative and great story tellers. By giving them puppets, they usually can express much more openly and tell a story that very often reveals their own lives. With the guidance of a trained therapist, the interaction can help in assessing more underlying issues.


It is essential to seeking professional help is for a child who is experiencing depression, sadness and/or loss . Therapists who specialize in working with children and adolescents, and use child appropriate approaches are ideal. Children usually respond positively to art and play therapy which integrates verbal and cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) as well. An art therapist can help your child manage their depression and give parents continues strategies and support.


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