People often think childhood depression is a myth. I mean, what could a kid possibly be depressed about? A lot, as it turns out… school difficulties, problems with friends, family conflict, health concerns; the list is endless. But the majority of kids experience at least some stress at one time or another, and not every child is depressed. So how does it happen? Good question. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 11 percent of kids have a depressive disorder by the age of 18. However, depending on who you talk to, the causes of childhood depression are varied. Much of the research in this area has focused on the diathesis-stress model to explain depression. This model states humans have certain diatheses (better known as predispositions) for developing depression, such as family history and genetic vulnerability. However, just being predisposed to depression doesn’t mean a person is bound to be depressed. Diatheses must interact with environmental stressors (think stressful life events, big and small) in order for depression to rear its ugly head. And even then, individuals react to stress differently; what may be very stressful for one person does not necessarily cause the same amount of stress in another. So as it turns out, the actual cause (or causes) of depression is quite a complex combination.
How do you know if your child is depressed? Truth is, it can often be hard to spot because many of the symptoms of clinical depression are perceived as normal emotional and psychological developmental changes. Sadness, sleep and appetite variations, and irritability are just a few symptoms of depression that can also be part of normal childhood development. But clinical depression is more than just being moody or sad. And it extends beyond having a tough day or coping with a loss of a loved one like the death of a grandparent or pet. What you’re looking for in clinical depression is a change in the pattern of behavior for your child- as in several symptoms that last more than a few weeks.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
- Persistent sadness and hopelessness that lasts nearly all day, every day, for several days
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and from previously enjoyed activities
- Increased irritability or agitation
- Changes in school performance- lack of motivation, incomplete homework, distractibility, atypical low grades, school refusal
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits (eating and sleeping much more or much less than is normal)
- listlessness… the “I don’t care about anything” attitude
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Lack of concentration or indecisiveness
- Frequent headaches and stomachaches that don’t improve with treatment
- Lack of energy, fatigue
- self-harm such as head banging or cutting or burning oneself
- Morbid thoughts or drawings, wishes of death or suicide
WHAT TO DO:
1. BE AWARE
Track concerning, out-of-the-ordinary behaviors for your child. Note when behaviors seems to have started, how often they occur, and if they seem to be progressively more severe
2. VISIT YOUR PEDIATRICIAN
Many illnesses can mimic depression, such as juvenile diabetes, “mono,” anemia, or thyroid and other endocrinological imbalances. Ruling out medical causes for your child’s behavioral changes is very important in the process of differential diagnosis, so make an appointment with your pediatrician to get your kiddo checked out.
3. REACH OUT TO A PSYCHOLOGIST
See a child psychologist for evaluation and diagnosis. A professional in the field will be able to throughly assess your child and make necessary treatment recommendations. Parents should not hesitate to ask questions about diagnosis, therapy services, and treatment, and your child’s psychologist should be knowledgable about treatment resources for families, such as websites, parent support groups, and crisis helplines.
4. GET CONSISTENT, EFFECTIVE TREATMENT
Childhood clinical depression is unlikely to remit on its own; it’s a chronic illness. Telling a child to “snap out of it” or taking away privileges for having a poor attitude won’t help either. Depression is a serious issue that requires consistent treatment. The frequency, duration, and type of treatment is dependent on your child and his or her specific symptoms and needs. Play therapy is often effective for young children, while individual or group talk therapy is likely to be beneficial for teens. And it may take awhile before your child starts making some progress; sometimes symptoms get worse at the beginning of treatment before they get better. A combination of therapy and medication may be clinically necessary for some kids.
Still have unanswered questions about childhood depression? Harmony At Home is here to help. Contact Dr. Luisa today.