Childhood and Adolescent Depression: What You Need to Know

Blog Health Childhood and Adolescent Depression: What You Need to Know

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11.29.2021 0 comments

Mental health issues are, sadly, not something only adults face.

The CDC estimates [1] that 7.1% of children and teenagers (between the ages of 3 and 17) have diagnosed anxiety, while 3.2% have diagnosed depression. Among those children, it’s common to experience more than one mental health problem at a time—anxiety combined with depression and behavioral problems.

Mental health problems have increased over time, becoming more and more prevalent in our society. It’s up to us as parents to help our children and teenagers not only be more aware of the risk of mental health problems, but actively take steps to prevent, treat, and manage them.

The sad truth is that it’s often difficult to spot depression or anxiety in your children or teenagers. Most of the time they seem like themselves, and the occasional “dark cloud” may not seem like cause for concern.

There are a few signs that your child is depressed [2], and it’s important to watch out for them. The signs include:

Behavioral changes – Your child may seem more tired than usual, with lower energy levels and a tendency to sleep too much. Conversely, they may also experience insomnia. They may start to eat noticeably more or noticeably less, or may start craving more foods. They may turn to alcohol or drugs, begin to isolate themselves socially, pay less attention to their hygiene and personal appearance, perform poorly at school, or even experience angry outbursts or engage in disruptive behavior. They may appear agitated or restless, or their movement, speech, and thinking may become slowed. Thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideations are also common symptoms of depression among teenagers and even young children.

Emotional changes – Your child may cry more, often with no apparent reason, or seem sadder than usual. They may lash out in frustration or anger, or may simply feely empty, hopeless. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, or even lose interest in family and friends. Their self-esteem may drop, they become more self-critical and focus on past mistakes, or may become extremely sensitive to criticism, rejection, or failure. They may even have trouble remembering things, thinking clearly, or making decisions.

All of these are signs your child or teenager may be depressed. As a parent, you’re no doubt worried for them and want to take steps to help. The question is, what can you do?

Step 1: Examine your environment to identify the root cause. Depression isn’t always something that can be avoided—it’s often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, chiefly internal factors--but there are external factors that may be the cause (social isolation, lack of sleep, stress, lack of leisure time, etc.) It’s not your child’s fault, nor is it yours. Examine your child's environment to see if there are external factors that might be behind the depression, and consider that it may be primarily (or entirely) the result of neurochemical imbalances. Stop looking to place blame or find a way that it could have been avoided. Accept that it’s something your child or teenager is struggling with and needs help to handle.

Step 2: Seek help. To start off with, get yourself to an expert—a school counselor, a therapist, or child psychologist—and see what you can do to help your child. Your child may not be ready to accept that they need therapy or medication, but you can educate yourself about ways you can help your child manage the depression or anxiety at home. At the very least, understanding what your child is going through will reframe your approach toward helping them.

Step 3: Encourage a better social life for them. Social withdrawal is one of the worst “traps” people suffering from depression face [3]. They feel like they’re not worthy or lovable or sufficient, so they begin to withdraw from friends and family. This only compounds the feelings of isolation, which can worsen the depression. Social contact, however, can actually do wonders to reverse the depressed feelings, increase a sense of self-worth, and elevate mood (on a physiological as well as psychological level). Studies [4] have even proven that socializing using technology (video games, social media, etc.) can help to develop and maintain friendships, providing some small measure of social contact to counteract depression.

Step 4: Get the school involved. Researchers have found a number of school-based approaches to preventing, treating, and managing depression in adolescents [5]. Recruiting the teachers, counselors, and even fellow students to help your child will build a support system (for you and them both) that will make your efforts far more effective than if you simply labored on your own.

Step 5: Get them involved in their own management and care. Even young children can understand what they’re dealing with, and it’s vital that they are involved in the management and care of their mental health issues. Explain to them what’s going on, engage with them on what they’re struggling to cope with, and work toward finding a solution where they can get the help they need—be it a visit to a therapist, psychologist, or even needed medications. This will train them to be active (and proactive) in dealing with the mental health issues that they may very well struggle with for the rest of their lives.

Childhood and teenage depression doesn’t have to be the end of the world for you or your child. Arm yourself with knowledge and get help from those who know what to do and how to treat what your child or teenager is struggling with. Depression and anxiety are both fully manageable problems that can be nothing more than a speed bump on your child’s road to a happy, rich life!

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