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Understanding and Helping Children With Depression

Most people assume that depression can only affect adults because they have to deal with many of life’s major problems. However, children can suffer from depression as well. Studies show that about 1 in every 20 children is suffering from some form of depression at any given time.

Types of Depressive Disorders

Identifying the type of depression that afflicts a child can be tough. Major depression can disturb a child’s sleep cycle or appetite. It can also cause suicidal thoughts, concentration problems, and loss of interest in things. Dysthymia is a less-severe form of major depression where the symptoms are not as severe, although they may be chronic. Separation anxiety disorder often occurs in a child who’s loved one dies or goes away. The depression symptoms only appear when the prospect of being separated from a loved one appears. Meanwhile, adjustment disorder is associated with a major change in the child’s life and it is a reaction to certain stressors such as starting school or other major events.

Causes of Depression in Children/Risk Factors

One of the common causes of depression in children is the loss of a loved one. Children, especially young children, have a difficult time processing and adjusting to the loss of someone they are close to, especially if it’s their first experience with death. Other events like the loss of a pet or the divorce of parents can cause children to become depressed as well. Certain medical conditions can also cause depression in children. There are also signs that suggest that genetics is a risk factor as well. Other common occurrences in the life of a child that may cause depressive symptoms are poor or falling grades at school, lack of sleep or too much sleep, teasing or bullying at school, and more. Many things that adults have learned to accept as part of life, children have yet to learn to accept and not dwell on.

Spotting the Signs

Children who suffer from depression may have frequent bouts of sadness. They may get tearful or cry more often than is usual, often for seemingly no reason at all. They may complain of physical illnesses like headaches or stomachaches that keep them out of school. They may be increasingly irritable or angry over things they should not be upset over. They also may have low energy and show extreme sensitivity to failure or rejection. They may be increasingly anti-social, tense, and anxious. If a child is suffering from any of these symptoms, especially if they have just lost a loved one, they may be suffering from depression.

Why They Need Your Help

Children find it far harder than adults to process and deal with complex feelings because most of the time they can’t identify their emotions accurately. Children who feel extreme grief are probably unable to fully process it and because they can’t process it on their own, they need an adult who can help them work through their feelings. Just as adults, children may experience suicidal thoughts which, without treatment, may become severe and dangerous. Other things such as increase or decrease in body weight and loss of interest in activities may also occur.

When to Seek Treatment

If a child appears to be depressed for an extended period of time and nothing seems to be helping them, it’s a good idea to seek treatment. If a parent in unable to help the child overcome it, or feels under-qualified, there’s no shame in seeking professional help. The recovery rate of single episodes of depression in children is high but quickly identifying and seeking help can reduce the risk of recurring more severe depression later in life.

The Types of Treatment Available for Children

There are many treatment options available for depressed children. Cognitive treatments are treatments that are designed to influence negative thought cycles. They teach children to recognize the connections between their thoughts and feelings by understanding why they react to certain things in certain ways. Behavioral treatments are designed to teach children self-monitoring activities that increase their mood so they have pleasant thoughts and feelings. If all else fails, there are some medications that can be prescribed, but children psychotherapy is often more successful and recommended.

Additional Information

Children who suffer from depression are more likely to develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol if the problem is not dealt with early on. Since they can’t “snap out of it,” they often suffer for years without any real coping mechanisms. Somewhere around 2.5% of the children in the United States suffer from depression and they need help to cope with it.