Care and Feeding

Is My 7-Year-Old Too Young to Be Dealing With Depression?

He told his dad, “The world is really hard, and sometimes I think it would be better off if I wasn’t in it.” What should we do?

A young boy looking down with a furrowed brow, a woman with her hand on his shoulder.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Diane39/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Recently, my 7-year-old called out to my husband right before falling asleep. He said: “Daddy, can I tell you something I haven’t told anyone? The world is really hard, and sometimes I think it would be better off if I wasn’t in it.” He explained he first thought this when he got a challenging homework assignment in the first grade (he’s now in second) and has thought it since. He said it was OK to tell other grown-ups but not his cousins, because he didn’t want to be embarrassed.

He can be a really intense kid. His tantrums between the ages of 3 and 6 were the most explosive of any child we know. He’s also super bright, sweet, funny, and loving. He has friends and does well in school. He met with his school’s child psychologist for general anxiety last year for a similar comment; in the middle of a meltdown, he said, “I hate you, Mommy, and I wish I wasn’t in this world.”

How much of this is normal developmental behavior, and how much is something for which we need to pursue or seek out more help or treatment? We have some family history of depression, OCD, and Tourette syndrome. I think, with that in mind, I always assume the worst and jump to conclusions. I want to help my kid by any means necessary and would appreciate some advice.

—Worried in Nebraska

Dear WiN,

Six- and 7-year-olds are known for saying shocking things, oftentimes because they don’t fully grasp the meaning behind their words. However, considering your family’s history, it would be unwise to decide that your son is simply repeating a sentiment he has heard somewhere without realizing that it would keep his parents awake at night. He’s not too young to be dealing with depression, anxiety, and/or some other such challenge. Get him into therapy and work with a professional to help him develop healthier responses to stress. Wishing you all the best during this time, and be glad that you are stepping up and addressing this now as opposed to waiting until he’s older or until things have escalated.

—Jamilah