Health

Depression in children

DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN

Yes childhood depression is different from the normal “blues” and everyday emotions that occur as a child develops. Just because a child seems sad doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has significant depression. If the sadness becomes persistent, or interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork, or family life, it may indicate that he or she has a depressive illness. Keep in mind that while depression is a serious illness, it is also a treatable one.

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How Can I Tell if My Child Is Depressed?

The symptoms of depression in children vary. It is often undiagnosed and untreated because they are passed off as normal emotional and psychological changes that occur during growth. Early medical studies focused on “masked” depression, where a child’s depressed mood was evidenced by acting out or angry behavior. While this does occur, particularly in younger children, many children display sadness or low mood similar to adults who are depressed. The primary symptoms of depression revolve around sadness, a feeling of hopelessness, and mood changes.

COMMON SIGNS OR SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESION IN CHILDREN

  • Irritability or anger
  • Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection
  • Changes in appetite — either increased or decreased
  • Changes in sleep — sleeplessness or excessive sleep
  • Vocal outbursts or crying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don’t respond to treatment
  • Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Impaired thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Not all children have all of these symptoms. In fact, most will display different symptoms at different times and in different settings. Although some children may continue to function reasonably well in structured environments, most kids with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in school and poor academic performance, or a change in appearance. Children may also begin using drugs or alcohol, especially if they are over age 12.

Although relatively rare in youths under 12, young children do attempt suicide  and may do so impulsively when they are upset or angry. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are more likely to actually kill themselves when they make an attempt. Children with a family history of violence, alcohol abuse, or physical or sexual abuse are at greater risk for suicide, as are those with depressive symptoms.

What Causes Depression in Children?

As in adults, depression in children can be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, life events, family history, environment, genetic vulnerability and biochemical disturbance. Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that will go away without proper treatment.

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Can Depression in Children Be Prevented?

Children with a family history of depression are at greater risk of experiencing depression themselves. Children who have parents that suffer from depression tend to develop their first episode of depression earlier than children whose parents do not. Children from chaotic or conflicted families, or children and teens who abuse substances like alcohol and drugs, are also at greater risk of depression.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Treatment options for children with depression are similar to those for adults, including psychotherapy (counseling) and medication. The role that family and the child’s environment play in the treatment process is different from that of adults. Your child’s doctor may suggest psychotherapy first, and consider antidepressant medicine as an additional option if there is no significant improvement. 

Depression in Children: Warning Signs

Parents should be particularly vigilant for signs that may indicate that their child is at risk for suicide.

Warning signs of suicidal behavior in children include:

  • Many depressive symptoms (changes in eating, sleeping, activities)
  • Social isolation, including isolation from the family
  • Talk of suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Increased acting-out of undesirable behaviors (sexual/behavioral)
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Frequent accidents
  • Substance abuse
  • Focus on morbid and negative themes
  • Talk about death and dying
  • Increased crying or reduced emotional expression
  • Giving away possessions

 Parents, let’s try to engage our kids to understand them better

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