There is a misconception that one can actually “snap out” of depression and other mental health problems. This certainly isn’t the case, especially among children.
Depression – the cold hard facts
In Australia, 14% of children and adolescents from ages 4 to 17 have mental health problems, with boys more likely to experience it than girls. Only one out of four of these sufferers receive professional help.
In the US, however, 1 in 5 kins aged 3 to 17 experience mental health problems including depression, behavioural problems and ADHD. Annually, the US government spends $247 million in the treatment of kids with mental illness.
Worldwide, the numbers in mental disorders among kids also increased. This has been evident with the rise of anti-depressant use. Each year, according to a Harvard study, the rate of depression among children increases by 23%. Pre-schoolers, as shocking as it is, are the one who are the fastest growing segment of anti-depressant users.
Twenty-three years ago the book Listening to Prozac became a hit. But the current global situation goes far beyond Prozac; other anti-depressants are now also increasing in demand and becoming some of the most common prescription drugs for the public.
Today, there are 121 million people worldwide who are dealing with some form of depression. The WHO – or the World Health Organization – predicts depression will become the fourth leading disability worldwide by the year 2020.
Among developed countries, France has the highest lifetime prevalence of MDE or Major Depressive Episodes, followed by the Netherlands, the US and India.
Signs of depression among children and teens
Here are some of the most common signs of depression exhibited by children and teens:
Causes of depression in kids
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “children under stress, who have experienced loss, or who have attention, learning or conduct disorders are at a higher risk for depression”.
Often, parents try to set the problem aside, thinking it will go away with time, but as Paul Heroux, a US State Representative, stated in his Huffington Post article Depression in Children, “I am not referring to childhood “blues,” and depression in childhood isn’t just a “growing up problem.” Depression is more than the old beliefs and what meets the eye.
The most common misconception about mental health is that children and teens cannot get depression. Any behaviour and emotional change among children is only a mood change. Often, parents and guardians may not see it coming or mistake it for something else. Before one can understand it, the possible reasons for depression should be pinpointed.
Here are the possible causes as supplied by major theories and studies:
- SAD or seasonal affective disorder. When the body has a hard time adjusting to seasonal change, especially summer, depression may set in. It is often the body’s answer to imbalances that occurs in the brain chemistry as well as the production of hormone melatonin. Although kids may view summer as something fun, it can’t be helped that SAD may take over.
- Physical health. Frail children often are deprived of common childhood activities. This may lead to feelings of being left out. Also, health problems can contribute depending on the illness itself. Medication may also be one of the culprits. Nutrition may also contribute to mental health stability among children and teens.
- Life events. Children with parents who are divorced are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues. Divorce often affects children more than they let on or more than parents can see. Other life events that may trigger depression may include bullying, failure in school, transfer from one residence to another, leaving of a sibling from the house, and falling out from a circle of friends.
- Family history. Family history, or rather the genes and heredity may play a big role in determining depression probability. Those who have families with cases of depression may also likely pass the problem to later generations. Genetic vulnerability is one issue that is greatly debated.
- Environment. The environment and the neighbourhood that a child is exposed to is a big factor in depressive moods. Those who grow up in less supportive environment may feel inadequate, anxious and have lowered self esteem. Also, frequent parental fights witnessed by children may also trigger some mental health issues.
- Biochemical disturbance. Some kids may not have health problems, are part of a secure and stable family and school environment with good social support, but may still suffer from the problem. This may be caused by the body’s own doings where biochemicals in the system are uncooperative and go haywire.
- Depressed parents. Children who have depressed parents may also acquire psychiatric problems as well as behaviour issues. Due to this, the cycle of depression goes on and on.
Depression and parental role
Once diagnosed, children are often subjected to several treatments available. Parents however may play a very big role in addressing their child’s depression. Parents are often lectured as to their role and the level of support they need to give to their child. But what if it’s the parent who has the issue? Address your issues and try to balance it with your child’s needs.
Talking to kids is one way to reduce anxiety and depressive moods. Setting aside time to know your child’s thoughts is a great therapy. Often, depression can worsen with neglect.
Medications, as suggested, should be your last resort. Go to a therapist first for an intervention before going to a physician. Bombarding kids with anti-depressants right away may build dependence on the medication in the long run. Knowing this as a parent may help you decide better for your child.
Before any treatment can be implemented, there should be a thorough examination. Often, medical professionals will gauge your child’s depression by its severity, its occurrence, chronicity, their age, contextual causes and issues, and openness to treatment.
Mild cases after the examination may be subjected to psychotherapy. Cases that can’t be managed may need medical intervention. Known interventions include:
- Pychotherapy/counselling. Often, schools offer counselling therapies for pupils that are suspected of depression. Parents though may have the choice of going for professionals outside of schools. A regular psychotherapy can help a lot in managing depressive bouts among children especially if it’s supported by family.
- Medication management. Medication is the second option most parents go to when their child is diagnosed with depression.
- Social skills training. Often, anxiety and depression stem from inadequate social skills. Therapy on social skills as well as training may help kids. Teaching kids ways to cope with social happenings may help lessen anxiety and manage depression.
- Educational assessment and planning. Since a child may spend most of the day in school, an adequate communication between schools, parents and clinics may be established. This way, the kid with depression may have his or her educational settings patterned to his progress and needs.
- Hospitalization. Kids who are unable to answer or show positive reaction to treatments and may already exhibit suicidal behaviours are recommended for hospitalization. This way, proper care and rehab can be instituted while avoiding self inflicted harm.
- Alternative supplements. Supplements that supports brain health can be employed as long as they are approved by physicians. One known supplement is omega-3. Its components DHA and EPA support mental health and may reduce depressive episodes.
Childhood depression isn’t something that can be set aside. It is, as doctors put it, one medical health emergency that needs an intervention right away.