Special Topic: Children and Depression
Depression affects people of all ages, not just adults, but also children and adolescents. Parents and professionals need to be aware that depression at different ages may appear much differently. Perhaps you have a young child that is despondent or very angry. Maybe a teenager has become extremely oppositional, defiant and isolates himself from family and friends. You know that something is wrong, but aren't sure whether to consider it depression.
If you are concerned that your child is depressed but are not sure, make an appointment for an assessment with a behavioral health specialist or family physician as soon as possible.
What Are Depressed Children Like?
Adults frequently present with deep sadness when they are depressed. In children, however, that sadness often presents itself as anger and so one of the frequent symptoms of depression in kids is irritability and angry outbursts. When I first interview children, I ask them if they are "mad" a lot and many times they say they are. I then ask them what makes them sad and without skipping a beat they talk about the sad thing that they are expressing as anger.
Another sign of possible depression, is when children refuse to go to school, or complain of being sick to avoid going to school. While many children don't like school (I didn't) they usually trot off to school, muttering "I hate school" or something like that. But when a child, especially one that did not seem to mind school too much, begins to refuse to go, cries, or pretends to be sick, it may be a signal that this child is depressed.
Children of school age should be able to separate from their parents fairly easily and be willing and able to play, watch TV or sleep independent of their parents. Some children arrive at this later than others. When a child seems to have been pretty independent and not having a problem being away from their parent(s), and then becomes "clingy", insecure and needy, this may also be symptomatic of depression.
How Can You Help?
Depression in youngsters is treatable. Often that may involve antidepressants and/or therapy. If you think that your child is depressed, play it safe and have them examined by a mental health professional or by their pediatrician.
As a therapist, I recognize the important role that family members have in the recovery process by:
One symptom, that alarms parents frequently, is when children seem to be preoccupied with death and dying. Frequently this occurs following the death of someone that they know, or after someone has been inflicted with a serious illness or injury. This may often be the child's first time to consider mortality and that someday everyone must die (including the child herself). Often their concern seems selfish, as when the child is worried that something may happen to their parent(s) and they ask "If you died, what would happen to me?"
How Do Depressed Teenagers Act?
A few years ago, I was invited to attend a conference about teenagers and depression. I couldn't attend, but the title of the conference was instructive. The tile was this: "Is It Depression or Normal Teenage Moods?" This points up the dilemma that parents and professionals alike face. Do we write off moodiness in teens as normal and expected? or should we be concerned about possible depression? It is often tempting to do the former, but consider that as many as 700,000 teens may attempt self harm or suicide in the next year and that suicide is the third biggest cause of teen deaths in the US (behind accidents and homicides). Suicide rates among teenage girls are three times greater than boys and in the last 20 years the rate of suicide among African American teens has more than doubled.
Signs of developing depression in teens can include any of the following:
Parents are bound to have trouble understanding a depressed teen's confusing signals; after all, who does not want to think of their child as happy and confident. But parents must pay attention to serious depression; the risks are too great if they don't.