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Dealing With Depression in Children by Dr. Sharmistha Barai

Depression is a common and serious mental disorder. Children can suffer from depression just as adults can. Research has shown that some forms of depression are typical in certain age groups. When recognized early and diagnosed, depression is responsive to various forms of treatment. Thanks to cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it isn't always necessary to resort to medication.

Fortunately, teenage depression can be treated, and as a concerned parent, teacher, or friend, there are many things you can do to help. You can start by learning the symptoms of depression and expressing concern when you spot warning signs. Talking about the problem and offering support can go a long way toward getting your teenager back on track.

Depression in adolescents may be difficult to spot because sulkiness, irritability, antisocial behaviour, negativity and withdrawal often go hand in hand with growing up.

It is said that as many as one in 20 children and adolescents experience depression before they reach 19. This frequency is made even more alarming when we consider some of the social causes of depression, such as bullying. Depression can be induced by the environment and personal space of the individual. There is not a catch all, wear all version of depression - it exists in many forms.

Several forms of depression affect children and adults alike. Major depression is characterized by specific signs and symptoms; suffering at least five of these symptoms for two weeks or more is a highly reliable marker of depression. In dysthymia, symptoms generally are less severe, but the illness is marked by a more chronic and persistent course; rather than shifting episodically into well-defined periods of depression, the child with dysthymia lives in world tinted a joyless gray.

So what is the cause? No single cause of depression has ever been identified. There is evidence to suggest that depression has a genetic base; people with a history of depression running in their family seem to be most at risk, but this predisposition is typically triggered by something in the environment. A child who is at risk from becoming depressed may find stress or traumatic event to trigger symptoms of depression.

What has to be understood by all, though, is that clinical depression is not a character weakness but a real illness. It can be effectively treated with the correct medication and support. There are various warning signals that your child is suffering from depression.

Extensive research has identified the signs and symptoms of major depression. According to the official diagnostic manual of psychiatry, at least five symptoms must be present to the extent that they interfere with daily functioning over a minimal period of two weeks.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression
(As seen often in children and adolescents):

  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying 
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility 
  • Hopelessness 
  • Preoccupation with nihilistic song lyrics 
  • Decreased interest or enjoyment in once-favorite activities 
  • Low energy 
  • Persistent boredom 
  • Frequent complaints of physical illness; for example, headache, stomachache 
  • Poor communication with family and friends, social isolation Low self-esteem, feelings of guilt 
  • Oppositional; negative 
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure 
  • Inability to concentrate (poor performance in school; frequent absences) 
  • Changes in sleep habits (Excessive late-night TV; refusal to wake in the morning) 
  • Changes in eating habits (Failure to gain weight as normally expected; bulimia or anorexia) 
  • Talk of running away from home

Parents can expect a high level of support and after-care from their local health-care services. Treatments for depression are effective for the majority of those afflicted with the illness. Teachers are often needed to give a reference in order to provide details about noted changes in behaviour. Your child's doctor can rule out other illnesses that might be affecting their behaviour.

Dr. Sharmistha Barai is a leading Child & Adolescent psychiatrist based in Saint Louis, Missouri, using her talents and expertise to treat clients for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar and personality disorders. She completed a MBBS degree (medical degree equivalent) at Lady Hardings Medical College, in New Delhi, India (2002).
Also read: Child Depression - How Active Play Can Help

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