Although depression is seen mostly as an adult illness, children and adolescents can develop depression as well. In fact, 3% of the children and 8% of the adolescents in USA have been diagnosed with depression. Unfortunately, many children with depression are not treated, since the parents and other adults around them don’t recognize the symptoms. Mostly as adults we feel children cannot be depressed as they have nothing to worry about, they do not have adult problems but kids experience stress too, in their own way. It has been seen that even kids from happy, secure families maybe suffering from depression.
It is important for parents, teachers and other caregivers to understand depression and it’s manifestations in childhood. While adults tend to be sad or low when depressed, in children and adolescents, it may come out in irritability and anger. Often depression gets ignored, as anger outbursts maybe seen as bad attitude or disrespect, and lack of energy and not trying maybe seen as lethargy or laziness.
It is therefore essential to understand the signs and symptoms :
- Irritability or anger
- Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Social withdrawal, not engaging in activities they previously enjoyed
- Increased sensitivity to rejection
- Changes in appetite – increase or decrease
- Changes in sleep – sleeplessness or excessive sleep
- Crying outbursts or defiant attitude
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and low energy
- Frequent stomach aches, head aches that don’t get better with medication
If a few or more of these symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, the parents should definitely seek medical advice.
Treatment for depression in children is similar to that in adults. It may or may not involve medication depending on severity and if therapy alone is not working. Your pediatrician maybe a good starting point to begin treatment.
But in the case of children, family and his or her immediate environment has utmost importance in improving their mental health. While it may not be possible to prevent depression, parents and caregivers can be proactive and positive in their approach towards the issue. Some important things are :
- Make sure the child eats nutritious food, gets adequate sleep and engages in physical activity daily, preferably unstructured, free play.
- Spend time with your child. Engage in activities that you both enjoy like reading, watching movies, sports to encourage positive emotions and create a gentle, relaxing atmosphere at home.
- Talk to your child. Encourage your child to open up and verbalize their feelings while maintaining a positive and non judgmental stance.This will help you bond with your child, and also help him or her discuss their feelings openly in therapy.
- Be patient and kind. Depression often manifests in the form of irritability and anger, and it’s easy for parents to get angry or upset by the child’s behavior. Remember that this is a part of depression and does not imply disrespect or defiance, do not use harsh words. Instead show compassion and patience.
- Ask for cooperation from teachers and the school. It’s very difficult to do well in school when thinking and concentration are impaired, so talk to the teachers and counselor in school and enlist their support. They may help the child by giving a little bit more time or more flexible deadlines. Encouraging words from teachers can really boost a child’s confidence.
As hard as it can be for a parent to accept that their child is depressed, it is essential that they remain calm and focused on helping the child feel better. There maybe be frequent temper tantrums or outbursts from the child, but they need to be handled with love and kindness, and not taken personally. Always be there to listen to your child and provide unconditional love and support. With proper treatment and support, the child will thrive and enjoy childhood.
Please share your thoughts and experiences about this.