What is depression in children?
It is normal to feel sad, hurt, upset and go through a range of emotions during one's growing years. For some children, however, these feelings may persist for a longer duration having an effect on their emotional and mental health.
Depression is a very real concern for children. It can affect how a child thinks, feels and behaves, and can affect the quality of the child's life.
What are the signs of depression in children?
Depression is often considered an adult illness and is not always recognized when it affects children and adolescents. The symptoms in children are also slightly different from those seen in adults. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step towards recovery.
A child with depression is likely to:
- Lose interest in studies, and show a sudden decline in school performance
- Refuse to go to school
- Get distracted and be unable to focus on studies or other tasks
- Get tired easily and feel lethargic
- Lose appetite and sleep
- Struggle with thinking and decision making
- Get irritated for simple things
- Cry for no reason
- Complain of headaches or stomach aches that don't respond to treatment
- Refuse to play with friends
- Lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed
What causes depression in children?
In today's competitive world, children are burdened by unnecessary pressure to excel in both academics and extra-curricular activities. Parents and teachers overlook the fact that each child is unique. The child is forced to follow a rigid system and abide by the rules, which may be too much for them to handle. This can be one of the major causes of depression in chidren, as they spend a lot of their time learning, whether at home or in school. At the same time, there are other psychosocial factors that may also affect the child’s mental health. Children who cannot handle emotional and mental upheavals may be vulnerable to depression.
Depression in children and teens may be due to:
- Prolonged mental stress arising out of conflicts at home, for example, dealing with an alcoholic parent or marital issues of parents
- Traumatic events such as violence, physical or mental abuse, or neglect
- Other untreated psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorders
- Learning problems that affect the child's self confidence and ability
Depression among children can vary from being mild to moderate or severe.
- Mild depression can cause a child to feel unhappy, but the child will be able to lead a normal life. The child may not show much interest in doing daily tasks or school work, but with the parents' support and with simple lifestyle changes, the child can recover from mild depression.
- Moderate depression can significantly affect the child's life. The child may constantly feel miserable and low. If you think that your child shows these signs of depression, contact your family doctor and seek the help of a mental health expert.
- Severe depressioncan cause the child to feel worthless. The child may also have constant negative thoughts feelings of sadness that they are unable to cope with. If your child shows signs of being severely depressed, it is advisable to take your child to the doctor and begin treatment at the earliest.
Getting treatment for depression
Depression affects the child's physical and mental health, academic performance, and daily life. If you notice two or more of the symptoms mentioned above, the first step is to consult a pediatrician or a mental health expert. Treatment options include both medication and therapy depending on the severity of the condition. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is proven to be effective in treating depression.
Note:Teachers need to be trained in mental health so that they can deal with mental health issues among students.
Caring for a child with depression
As a parent, you can help your child cope with depression. Here are some ways in which you can help your child:
- Learn about depression. Understanding about the condition will enable you to be more equipped as a caregiver and you can provide support to your child.
- Help the child adhere to the prescribed treatment. If the doctor has prescribed medication, ensure that the child takes medicines regularly.
- Speak to your child and listen to them with empathy. Allow them to express their feelings without judging them.
- Watch for warning signs and situations that could trigger depression; try to avoid such situations.
- Work with the doctors, teachers and other experts to find out how you can support your child's recovery.
- Take care of the child's physical health. Exercise or physical activity helps improve the child's mood.
- Take care of your child's nutrition as it is important for their physical and mental wellbeing.