Lets begin with understanding what anxiety and depression are like from the inside out.
Anxiety is felt as an intense worry or fear and can be over anything old or new, things you have always been OK with can become scary or the cause of worry and new tasks, challenges or experiences can cause you to feel anxious.
Depression is a long term feeling of low mood, feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness, sometimes you can feel numb and negativity can become the focus, influencing your self talk.
*these are NOT diagnostic descriptions, they are descriptions from lived experience.
Both anxiety and depression can change personalities but not always as children learn to hide it very well. Children’s behaviours are the indicator as to what is going on with them.
When considering a child’s mental health and behaviours, we often dismiss anxiety in confident children, children who play sports, children who can talk in class, happy children, children who have a laugh and a joke, creative children and children who come across as cocky can all be deemed to be managing OK. If we consider a child to be coping and constantly tell them who we think they are, they see the pleasure it gives us and they want to maintain that persona, that effort and that pressure to be that person.
The problem with that assumption and the association that confident kids don’t get anxiety is that it can be so very wrong and very damaging for children hiding anxiety and depression. They often feel under more pressure to hide it as there are expectations on them to do well, to be happy, to be who everyone else thinks they are when they are struggling under the surface. From a very early age we learn to hide our feelings and thoughts and only express socially acceptable thoughts and feelings, they are usually within the range of happy, sad, angry, frustrated, excited, enjoyment or we resort to I’m OK, I’m fine, I agree with you, I don’t know when we are pressed to offer some kind of contribution.
Anxiety and depression don’t look as we expect them to look in adults or children. The struggle to keep anxiety or depression is real, hidden by a plastered on smile, the bravado front, the laughing and joking and the great work they may produce. All this means nothing when they are crumbling inside under the external pressure and the self punishment and self judgement that they have long learned to apply to themselves.
Things to look out for in confident children
You may see an escalation in sickness, illness or physical pain, increase in excuses for not doing something, expression of worry over failing or seeking reassurance that if they fail it will still be OK, an increase in finding fault in their work or their performance, irritability over things they have always enjoyed, withdrawing from friends and or family, escalation in anger or aggression, maybe they become a little more needy for attention, etc.
How you can help
By Hayley Wheeler