Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Depression + Anger=Acting Out in Children

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | May 8, 2013 7:17 PM

A beautiful little girl sits in my office telling me sweetly about how "bad" she is at home. She pushes her little sister, yells at her mother and refuses to help. She's frustrated at school and doing badly. When asked about her parents' separation and their mental health problems, she cries. She's profoundly sad about real events which she can't control. She's angry. She internalizes some of the anger and converts it into depression. She releases some of the anger on less powerful people, like the little sister, and frustrates more powerful people, like her mother. She understands and she wants help.

A nice, friendly, smart teenager turns hostile towards her mother in my office waiting room. She's furious about being part of a family drama that has gone way out of her control. She uses the excuse that her mother didn't explain the evaluation at my office well enough today. She knows that she's angry because of what's become of her separated family and her lack of control. She struggles to hate the parent who's love she knows she won't lose. She knows she doesn't hate her. She releases her anger on her mother by talking back, refusing to cooperate, and treating her with disdain. She internalizes her anger and pain into depression and then masks all that turmoil with overeating. She understands these dynamics to some extent herself. She needs help. She wants it.

Children, especially, show their depression in the form of expressed anger. Of course, adults do, too, but depressed adults also implode more, just vegetating in hopelessness. In a way, children are stronger because by acting out, the draw attention to their pain. Let's not talk about them as having a "conduct disorder" or "behavioral issues." Let's look at the life situation to which they're reacting, understand what's going on inside them, empathize and help with understanding and coping strategies which give them healthy self-respect-building outlets.

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