Many people consider childhood to be “the happiest time” of a person’s life. However, children are susceptible to depression, just as adults are. But what is depression? How do you know if your child is depressed - and what should you do about it? What is depression?
Depression is a form of mental illness that affects the whole child - it impacts the way one feels, thinks and acts. Depression goes beyond sadness. It’s not just having a bad day or even coping with a major loss, such as the death of a favorite pet or even a parent or grandparent. It’s not a personal weakness or a character flaw. Children suffering from clinical depression cannot simply "snap out of it,” and the condition can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug use, and even suicide. Depression is a serious condition that affects 1 in 20 people (5%) over the course of their lifetimes; fortunately, it is highly treatable. How do you know if your child is depressed?
If you suspect your child is depressed, you need to do more than simply try to “cheer him up.” If you don't get help right away, your child could start to have serious problems with self-esteem, schoolwork, and relationships with friends and family.
Childhood depression has a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Persistent sadness and hopelessness
- Withdrawal from friends and activities once enjoyed
- Increased irritability, restlessness or agitation
- Missed school or poor school performance
- A desire to be alone most of the time
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches and stomachaches
- Lack of enthusiasm, low energy or motivation
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Mentioning hurting himself
- Thoughts of death, suicide or other morbid subjects
What should you do if you think your child might be depressed?
If you suspect your child suffers from depression, talk to your child's pediatrician. Before referring you to a child psychiatrist or psychologist, he or she will rule out medical conditions with symptoms that are like the symptoms of depression. There is no “test” for depression; assessments and diagnoses are done on the basis of symptoms the child may be showing.
Once under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist, the therapist will have a long talk with both you and your child, reviewing her history and finding out about her moods and feelings. Once the therapist is sure your child is depressed, treatment and recovery can begin.
If parents/adults in a young person’s life suspect a problem with depression, they should:
- See the child’s doctor for evaluation, diagnosis and referral, if necessary. This will allow you to determine if your child is going through some sort of phase or if assistance is actually needed.
- Be aware of the behaviors that concern them and note how long the behaviors have been going on, how often and how severe they seem.
- Get accurate information from libraries, hotlines and other sources. Childhood depression-related links are available on www.centersite.net.
- Ask questions about treatments and services.
- Talk to other families in their community.
- Find family network organizations.
It is important for people who have questions about mental health care to discuss their concerns with a provider, ask for more information, and seek help from other sources. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for children with depression. Children who exhibit symptoms of depression should be referred to, and further evaluated by, a mental health professional specializing in treating depression in children and teenagers, such as Beacon Behavioral Healthcare in Toledo.
The diagnostic evaluation may include psychological testing and consultation with other medical specialists. The comprehensive treatment plan may include medical psychotherapy, ongoing evaluations and monitoring, and in some cases, psychiatric medication. Optimally, this plan is developed with the family, and whenever possible, the child or adolescent is involved in the decisions.
Even the most severe cases of depression improve once they receive proper treatment, be it therapy or medication. But, the first step is acknowledging the condition and seeking help so you can help your child on the road to recovery.
Parts of this article have been used with permission from www.nmha.org and www.nami.org.