Although we often think of clinical depression as being an adult illness, it can affect young children as well. Unfortunately, children may not have the maturity to understand what is happening to them so don't ask for help. Because of this, it is up to us as adults to educate ourselves about childhood depression so that we can spot its signs and help them.
What you should understand about childhood depression:
A myth exists which says that childhood is always a happy, carefree time in our lives. The truth is, depression is a biologically-based illness and children can fall prey to it just like adults. We might expect that children experiencing extreme stress due to events such as divorce or abuse might be at risk, but even children who seem to have a "perfect" life can suffer from depression. Children with an inherited tendency towards depression have a low tolerance for stress. What might seem inconsequential to an adult could easily trigger depression in these children.
A child may not have the words to express what they are feeling or they may feel powerless to change their situation so they don't speak up about what they going through. It is important for the adults in their life to be aware of the signs and symptoms of childhood depression, which in some cases may be different from adult depression symptoms, in order to recognize when the child needs help.
Seeing a doctor is often a frightening experiences for children, especially if they've had a bad experience with needles or medicines. They may also feel afraid that they must be "crazy" if they are seeing a mental health professional. Positive
and honest communication about their illness and what to expect during treatment is essential.
Concerns have been raised in recent years about the safety of using antidepressants for children. Due to these concerns, parents often opt to try therapy before resorting to medications. The good news is that therapy may be all that is necessary to help children sort out their feelings and learn the skills they need to cope with life's stresses. Sometimes, however, medications are necessary to get the best result. Parents should keep in mind that while risks are associated with giving antidepressants to children, experts still believe that the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks. Parents should consult with their personal physician in order to make the best choice for their child.
Helping your child with his depression is not just a job for doctors and therapists. You can play an important role in your child's recovery by giving him a safe place to discuss his feelings and by modeling good skills for coping with his illness.
Raising awareness of childhood depression is quite simple. Mental Health America
has provided us with an image of a green ribbon that you can attach to your signature file in your emails or display on your Web site to raise awareness of childhood depression. Be sure to link the image to an article about childhood depression like this one.