Twenty million children in the United States alone suffer from clinical depression. What is happening and how can we help?
All kids feel sad some time in their childhood, whether it be from a friend moving away or a pet that died. Nevertheless, there is also an estimated two million children who are clinically depressed--scary numbers for parents and doctors. In researching for this article, I have come away with some sobering statistics in this, the beginning of the twenty-first century.
1.Depression in children is rising. In a study done at the National Institute of Mental Health, it was concluded that depression onset is occuring earlier in life than that of the past, and that children who suffer from depression will turn either to alcohol or to crime and will at least attempt suicide in adulthood, if they don't get the necessary treatments now. My eyes grew wide when I learned of this report.
2. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among children between the ages of 10-24.
3. If you, as a parent have suffered anxiety or depression, your child has a greater than fifty percent chance that they too will develop anxiety or depression.
4. It is estimated that half of the children who have depression will never get the proper help they need.
5. Depression can lead to poor grades, poor health and poor communication skills with children.
6. By the time children who have not gotten help, reach adulthood--they will have more health problems than those who sought out help when they were children.
7. Often times, parents think the child will just, "snap out of it." Those children never get help, and therefore end up in far worse circumstances.
8. Depression is treatable. By finding the right doctor and treatment for your child, depression can be controlled and even cured.
So, what is depression and more importantly, what can we, as parents do to prevent it from occurring in our children?
Depression is characterized as having imbalances in the brain's neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow communication between nerve cells. The neurotransmitters, Norepinpherne and Serotonin, are two chemicals whose low levels are thought to play an important role. Some doctors believe depression is heridatary, in that if parents or grandparents suffer from it, their children most likely will to. No one knows for sure why the chemicals are deficient; it could stem from genes, traumatic events, like a death or a move or from illness. Whatever the reason, depression in children is not normal. Kids need not be sad all the time. The question is, can depression be cured, before it causes major problems in the family?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can be controlled or cured, if we catch the signs early.
· Frequent vague, non-specific physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches or tiredness
· Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
· Talk of or efforts to run away from home
· Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying
· Being bored
· Lack of interest in playing with friends
· Alcohol or substance abuse
· Social isolation, poor communication
· Fear of death
· Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
· Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
· Reckless behavior
· Difficulty with relationships
If your child exhibits these signs, talk to a counselor as soon as possible. The earlier parents get help, the better. Children do not need to suffer needlessly nor do they need to feel as if they are alone.
There are all sorts of treatments out there for adolescent depression, but before you call a psychiatrist or stock your medicine cabinet with drugs, talk to your child and your doctor. Not all drugs are right for children and some can make the depression worse or have bad side effects. The most important thing you can do for your child is to discuss treatment options. The more the child feels in control of their depression, the better. If they are hesitant about medication, listen to why they are afraid and then come to a decision that will benefit everyone. Not all depressed children need drugs; some just need someone to listen to, someone they can relate to and someone who will understand and accept what they are feeling. The same with psychiatrists; children have different needs. It is vital that you pick someone that the child will feel comfortable talking with and expressing their feelings. Get on the Internet and research medications; if you feel that is the route, you would like to take.
The worst thing a parent can do is give up on their child. They need their parents more than anything. Often times, children do not know why they are feeling sad and they are scared. If the depression is because of a friend or loved one who has died or the fact that someone is bullying then in school, make it a point to talk to the school counselor and even the principal. Let them know what is going on so they can be aware and help the child.
I do not think we can necessarily prevent depression from ever entering out child's life. Just by watching the news or reading the newspaper, children get a sense of the real world around them and the things that make them fearful. In depressed children, these feelings can be overwhelming. We can help by not setting their feelings aside. We can be there for them; we can strive to help them have self-confidence and self-esteem. We can listen to their fears, hopes and dreams.
I still feel--and this is my opinion--that children need to be heard. Talk to them; find out what could be the reason that they are sad. If they are hesitant about speaking to you, or just do not want to, have a close relative or friend try to talk to your child. Sometimes, anxious parents can be a deterrent for children when they are feeling sad. We, as Parents mean well, but we could be the reason they are depressed. Children need to feel that by talking to us they will not feel as if we are judging them or making them feel bad for feeling the way they do.
Depression among adolescents is rising; let's do something before it gets out of control and help kids become kids again.
Written by Julia Nielsen - © 2002 Pagewise