Depression Affects Children Too
Depression does not only affect older people but also children and teenagers. In fact, 5 percent of children and teens suffer from depression at any given point in time, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Given this reality, a pediatric psychologist stressed the importance of the role of parents especially in understanding and knowing the warning signs of depression.
According to Kimberly Burkhart, PhD, a pediatric psychologist, these are the 11 warning signs to watch out for:
- Changes in sleeping habits (insomnia or hypersomnia). "Sleeping too little, too much or taking long naps regularly may be warning signs of depression," she says.
- Not wanting to participate in activities, or the loss of interest in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.
- Withdrawing from friends and family. This is common for teens who are suffering from depression. Withdrawal can take several different forms. Depressed teens and kids may withdraw emotionally from family members
- Trouble thinking or concentrating. "This may not be ADHD, but rather, a sign of depression," Burkhart says.
- Weight loss or gain, or changes in appetite. Eating too much and not eating enough can be signs of depression.
- Decline in academic performance.
- Fatigue or loss of energy. Teens with depression often feel very tired and aren't interested in doing any activity.
- Self-harm. This can take many forms, including cutting, picking, scratching or even hitting themselves.
- Lacking self-confidence or self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness. "People with depression often feel like they can't do anything right, are not liked and/or they're not good at anything," Burkhart says.
- Feelings of hopelessness. "When we think about someone being depressed, we look to see if they are experiencing negative thoughts about themselves, about others and about the future," Burkhart says.
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. This warning sign calls for immediate medical intervention.
True Depression vs Stressors
It is hard to tell if teens and young children are suffering from depression. But parents should be vigilant to know the difference between stressors and true depression.
According to Burkhart, if you've noticed a consistent change in mood and/or loss of interest lasting for two weeks or more, you should consult a professional.
"It's typical for children to feel angry and sad sometimes, but when someone's clinically depressed he/she is feeling sad, irritable, lacking interest in enjoyable activities and perhaps even feeling hopeless for most of the day, the majority of the days," she says.
If you're not sure how pervasive the problem is, Burkhart recommends talking to your child's teachers or coaches.
"They can tell you if they've also noticed any changes in behavior or mood," she says.
Treatment and Alternatives
Treatment for depression are also available and there are different options aside from medication.
Burkhart said, "One of the most effective treatments for dealing with depression in children and adolescents is cognitive behavioral therapy, which looks at the relationship among thoughts, feelings and behavior."
With cognitive behavioral therapy, mental health professionals work to help the child challenge and replace unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors with positive ones.
"For example, a child may be having negative thoughts that may be true or untrue," she says. "We work on evaluating those thoughts and helping the individual to think more adaptively or positively - and look for errors in their thinking."
Other techniques to treat childhood depression include behavioral activation where mental health professionals work with the person to gradually increase their engagement in positive activities and exercise. Behavioral activation has been found to be very effective for depression, even for clients who have not had success with other approaches.
For severe cases, doctor may recommend they take an antidepressant.