What is Depression?
Depression is not the same as regular sadness. It is a sense of hopelessness, despair, and lack of self-worth that lasts longer than two weeks. Depression interferes with the child or adolescent’s normal functioning. Children of all ages can suffer from depression and it should be taken seriously.
Depression is treatable; however, experts say only one in five depressed adolescents receive help.
It can be hard to distinguish between normal childhood moodiness and acting out and depressive symptoms in children and adolescents. As children move into adolescence they experience many pressures: questions about who they are and where the fit in, new or changing roles within the family and social groups, asserting their independence, and may be facing academic and career decisions.
Children and adolescents with depression may have difficulty explaining what or how they are feeling, instead they may act out.
Depression is a mental illness, not a choice. There is no shame when we have a physical illness, there should be no shame in having a mental illness.
Depression and Suicide
Adolescents who are depressed are at an increased risk for suicide. It is important to be aware of and watch for signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviour such as:
- talking or joking about suicide
- saying things, “I would be better off dead” or “I wish I could be gone forever”
- speaking positively about death
- writing stories or poems about death, dying or suicide
- exploring internet sites about suicide
- engaging in reckless behaviour, giving away prized possessions, saying goodbye to friends and/or family members.
What causes Depression?
There are many reasons why children and adolescents develop depression. The causes vary from person to person. Genetics play a role; there is evidence to support an increased chance for a child or adolescent to develop depression when a close relative has it.
Significant life events can cause depressive symptoms, such as the death of someone significant, divorce, moving to a new area, break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, stress, or a chronic illness.
How is Depression treated?
Treatment usually involves therapy, medication, or both. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice in mild to moderate depression; severe cases of depression may require the addition of an antidepressant. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) has also demonstrated effectiveness in alleviating symptoms of depression in 12 to 18 year olds.
With treatment, children and teens can live normal lives.
It is important to be patient during treatment as it can take time. Parents need to take care of themselves as well as any siblings. Be open with your family, it is important not to leave anyone out during a difficult time. Reach out for support. Siblings may need extra individual attention or professional help to deal with their own feelings about the situation.
Symptoms of Depression
Does your child…
- seem sad all the time
- get upset easily
- have unexplained irritability or crying
- have low self-esteem
- have extreme sensitivity to criticism or failure
- have frequent physical complaints such as headaches or upset stomach
Have you seen…
- loss of interest in favorite activities or being with friends
- constant low energy or fatigue
- social isolation and poor communication
- change in appetite
- change in sleep habits
- absences from school or drop in school performance
- poor concentration
- threats or attempts to run away from home
- drug or alcohol use
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide
How You Can Help
- Listen with empathy
- Try to understand your child’s concerns.
- Avoid lecturing.
- Ask your son or daughter how they are feeling
- Be non-judgmental and offer your support
- Use ‘I’ statements, “I have noticed that you seem really sad lately”
- Help your son or daughter develop a healthy sleep routine, healthy diet and regular physical activity
- Encourage your child to continue to engage in his or her favorite social and physical activities
- Assess whether your child is doing self-harming behaviours (e.g. cutting him or herself). He or she may do it in areas that are not easily to detect. These behaviours can be signs of a serious depression.
- Ask your child if she/he has thoughts of harming her/himself or if she/he ever wishes to not be alive
If you suspect your child is experiencing signs of depression, do not wait and hope for it to go away. take him or her to see your family doctor or a qualified mental health professional.