Understanding depression in children

As a child or teen, did it bother you when people would comment “these are the best years of your life”?

For many children, this blanket statement is a stark contradiction from the reality they know. A bulk of people experience a childhood or adolescence that is not always filled with rosy or positive experiences.

Once considered impossible, today’s experts are aware that even young children sometimes suffer from depression. As a parent, it’s hard to acknowledge that your child might be suffering from this ailment. If you feel that a child is suffering from depression it’s important to understand the facts, signs, symptoms, and pointers to help a child cope.

Childhood Depression

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry now estimates that typically one in 20 children or teens are depressed. This is shocking when you consider that within every classroom is a high probability that at least one child in attendance is suffering from depression.

Depression is a real medical condition and should be treated accordingly. Many parents feel there is a stigma attached to a child if it is suspected that she suffers from depression. Unfortunately, this is an illness that they can’t just “snap out of” and requires attention.

“Depression is no more a result of ‘bad parenting’ than is diabetes or cancer,” says Dr. David Fassler, co-author of “Help Me, I’m Sad”: Recognizing, Treating and Preventing Childhood and Adolescent Depression. “All are real illnesses that require careful evaluation. The good news is that we can help most children and adolescents.”

Causes of Depression In Children And Adolescents

Understanding what causes depression in children is a great first step. Researchers believe there are multiple factors linked to causing depression in children:

  • Chemical and physical changes occurring in a developing brain may cause depression. Hormones and neurotransmitters play an important part in controlling moods and behaviors. Experts are unable to explain why, but there is a strong correlation between existing behavior conditions. “Approximately forty percent of children and adolescents with depression also have an anxiety disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, and about one in four has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”.
  • Adversity early in life may play a vital role with children suffering from depression. Traumatic events can impact a child’s brain and may contribute to depression. Researchers believe this is because children often don’t have the appropriate coping mechanisms developed.
  • Depression can be hereditary. Studies are showing that depression can be inherited from close relatives- especially parents. “Studies show that 25 percent of kids who have a parent who has suffered from clinical depression will experience their own episode. If both Mom and Dad are depressed, the risk increases to around 75 percent.”
  • Pessimistic thinking can be learned. Children who are regularly exposed to negative thinking, especially from parents, show a higher tendency to suffer from depression.

Signs And Symptoms Of Depression

Diagnosing depression in children can be difficult, especially when you factor in hormones and normal stages of development. However, many doctors agree that children suffering from depression often exhibit multiple symptoms on a frequent basis. Often, to the point that they interfere with a child’s ability to function in daily activities.

If you suspect your child is depressed, here are a few red flag’s to be on the lookout for:

  • Irritable or sad moods for a majority of the day
  • Changes in their weight or eating habits
  • Disrupted sleep patterns: too much during the day or too little at night
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lack of energy
  • Low self-esteem: feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Drop in grades or lack of focus at school
  • Complaining of aches or pains when there is no real ailment
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

8 Strategies To Handle Depression

If your child is exhibiting multiple symptoms over an extended period of time, it’s important to address the situation. Here are 8 strategies to implement to help your child overcome depression:

  • Don’t ignore the signs and symptoms. Depression is a medical condition that can be treated.
  • Teach coping skills. Share your own experiences, discuss their behaviors, and seek behavioral therapy.
  • Turn to a doctor for sound medical advice and a prescription to ease depression.
  • Encourage exercise and activities.
  • Ensure your child gets adequate amounts of sleep.
  • Promote healthy eating and a balanced diet.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Pay attention to a child’s Social Media use in order to keep an eye on on the state of their mental stability.

The Best Is Yet To Come

Childhood depression might be difficult to identify, but there is hope.

Doctors are beginning to make strides in detecting and treating depression for the youngest members of society. Educating parents and society to be aware of the symptoms and signs will help everyone understand how to ease the condition that afflicts so many children.

Depression can impact a child’s life and compound the difficulties often associated with the “best years of their life”. Thankfully, with proper treatment it is possible to overcome the illness and allow a child to savor the years to come.

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