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Childhood depression

All children feel sad sometimes, but some may face these feelings daily, in which case they may have clinical depression. It is important that you seek help for your child if you feel they are struggling with depression.

Defining depression

Depression is defined as an extended period of sadness or hopelessness. Sadness is expected after the death of a pet or a loved one. But if a pet dies and the child is still crying every day a month later, they could be suffering from depression. Early detection is the key and can help kids avoid serious repercussions down the road.

If two or more of the symptoms below last longer than two weeks, your child could be suffering from depression.

Signs of depression may include:

  • irritable mood
  • anger or rage
  • continuous sadness/feelings of hopelessness
  • low motivation or energy
  • decreased interest in regular activities
  • withdrawal from peers and friends
  • changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • frequent physical complaints such as headaches and stomach aches
  • poor self esteem
  • feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • thoughts of death or suicide

Why is this happening?

There are many reasons why your child could be suffering from depression—the origin could be biological, environmental, or a combination of both.

Biology. Children and especially adolescents have bodies that are performing small miracles of growth and change every day. This can often have physiological effects on a growing brain. Chemical imbalances can contribute to depression.

Environment. Your child’s surroundings play an important role in development. An unhappy home can breed unhappy children. Bullying, death, abuse, or marital breakdowns often bring on depression.

Other external variables can include problems with substance misuse or difficulty at school or in friendship groups.

Helping your child

There are steps you can take to support your child at this difficult time:

Stay connected. Take note of your child’s behavior and moods. If they are unusually irritable or sullen, ask questions to determine if their response is appropriate to the issue. For example, it would be normal for your child to feel down if they have had a falling out with a close friend. However, if they are excessively crying, or their mood is not changing, something else may be going on.

Listen without judging or giving advice. Sometimes kids just want to be heard, not told what to do or how to fix a problem. Reserving judgment on small matters makes you more approachable when your child needs help with a big issue.

Provide a safe, loving environment. The outside world has an impact on all that happens in a child’s mind. Conflicts between parents or siblings can add to a child’s stress level. Avoid arguing in front of children as they are liable to see themselves as the root of these conflicts. This can wreak havoc on their self-esteem. Monitor sibling arguments to ensure problems get resolved fairly and without threats or bullying.

Engage in daily physical activity. Regular exercise can be as effective as medication in treating mild forms of depression. And it’s no coincidence that as childhood obesity rates rise, so too does childhood depression. Encourage your kids to engage in at least 30 minutes of daily outdoor play and limit TV and computer time.

Getting help

If you think your child is suffering from depression seek help immediately. Early detection can minimize the severity of depression, and can reduce its recurrence. For most childhood depression sufferers, therapy and counseling are the most effective treatments.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most popular form and involves getting the child to ‘think differently’ and undo negative thought patterns. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is also used to treat depression and consists of working through problematic personal relationships, usually with family members.

Medication is sometimes an option but is usually most effective when combined with therapy and/or counseling. While depression may come back, recurrences are usually less severe and last for shorter periods if therapists and counselors give children the tools they need to minimize the impact of depression.

Don’t forget to get help yourself. Talk with other parents and seek support if your child is diagnosed with depression. You are not alone. Join a support group or contact a professional to get the assistance you need to cope during this challenging time.

Depression is a growing reality and can take its toll on our children’s emotional health and wellbeing. As a parent, you’re the first line of defense. Arming yourself with knowledge so you can quickly spot signs of trouble is one of the best ways to deal with childhood depression.