I’m worried about my child. Is this just a phase or is it depression?
Only recently has childhood depression been taken seriously. It can be hard to tell whether a change in a child’s behavior is due to a passing phase or to depression. Parents and the child’s teacher may notice that the child “doesn’t seem to be him/herself.” A depressed child may complain of frequent illness, be unwilling to go to school, or become unusually clingy. Older children may act out in ways that include sulking, trouble at school, and expressing feelings of negativity, grouchiness, and being misunderstood. Depressed teens may also begin to use drugs or alcohol. Symptoms can vary, but most parents of depressed children will notice a change in at least one of these three areas: school, social life, and appearance.
Childhood depression hurts everyone in the family. Parents worry and want to know what’s wrong. They want to fix their child’s problems. The child may not even know what’s wrong, just that she’s hurting. Everyone may feel scared and unsure what to do next.
Childhood Depression is a treatable illness.
Treating depression in children is similar to treating adults: it is best to start with overall health, environment, education, and building coping skills. Habits that may help to ease a child’s depression include exercise, healthy eating, limited screen time, individual attention from parents, and encouraging responses to positive behavior. Next, consider the family environment—has a loss in the family recently occurred? Is there a way to reduce the amount of stress the child is under, perhaps by reducing responsibilities at home or school? Often, depression affects more than one member of a family. It is a good idea for the whole family to learn about depression, and for a parent struggling with depression to get help as well.
Children with depression can be helped by building problem-solving and cognitive coping skills. Relaxation techniques can help with anxiety or trouble sleeping. Children can be encouraged to focus on their strengths and to identify small, achievable goals that will add up to a larger success, such as studying for a certain amount of time every day instead of cramming the night before a test. Teaching children to think incrementally can ease the feeling of overwhelm that often accompanies childhood depression. Professional counselors can provide additional help and support to parents and children.
Isn’t depression an adult illness? How do I know my child isn’t just experiencing normal growing pains?
It’s common for parents to blame themselves and think that their actions have a direct link to their child’s feelings and actions. However, depression is a serious illness; it’s not something a parent can cause in a child. Depression may have a genetic componenet, so looking at the family history for other instances of depression can help parents understand why their child might be depressed.
Parents know their children better than anyone else, so a feeling that something isn’t right should be taken seriously. Talking to the child’s pediatrician is a good place to start; he or she can help determine if a consultation with a therapist is the next step to take. There are many different treatment options and parents can gather information before deciding which approach to take.
Your family is not alone in dealing with childhood depression; hope is out there.
By the age of 18, about 11% of adolescents will have experienced a depressive disorder. More girls than boys are affected by depression, but still it’s the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15-44. Luckily, there is now a lot more awareness and understanding of childhood depression than ever before. Recent discoveries from NIMH-funded studies are helping mental health professionals and their patients make better choices about treatment. With medication, therapy, or a combined approach, most children with depression can be successfully treated. As with many conditions, it’s best to start treatment as early in the onset of illness as possible.
Children with depression need all the support they can get.
The child experts at Main Line Counseling Partners have many years of success in helping families treat, manage, and thrive despite their obstacles. We have a child psychologist, and family therapist on staff who are highly skilled at treating childhood depression. During the course of treatment, we will have direct contact with community members on behalf of your child. This may include advocacy for support services or accommodations at school, or speaking with a child psychiatrist regarding concerns about medication side effects. Whatever comes up, your therapist will help you and your child navigate through it.
It can be overwhelming to explore the many options for depression treatment. To learn more, read our recent blog post on teen depression, or learn more about child counseling at Main Line Counseling Partners.