Childhood depression is not something many think about as something that happens very often. Mention this topic to a group of people, and you get the entire range of responses. Some people believe children never get depressed, and others seem to overreact. What is accurate - how often does childhood depression really occur? Recent statistics have suggested that one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents suffer from depression.
At any given time, 10 to 15 percent of children and/or adolescents have some symptoms of depression. Once a young person has experienced a major depression, he or she is at an increased risk of developing another depression within five years. Why is this important for parents and caregivers to know? Depression causes significant loss of productivity, decreased school performance, relationship and health problems, and is significantly linked with suicide. Did you know that in 2005, suicide was the third overall cause of death for 15-24 year olds? It also was the third leading cause of death for Caucasian children ages 10 to 14 and the fifth-leading cause of death for African-American children. Those statistics should shock -- and alarm -- you.
What can you do to make sure you are aware of your child’s emotional life and needs? First, make sure you routinely know what is going on in your child’s life. Sometimes the warning signs are subtle and can be missed with all the hustles and bustles of life. Possible signs of depression include sadness that won’t go away, hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest in usual activities, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and reckless behavior. Other signs include poor school performance, alcohol and substance abuse, threats, and thoughts about suicide or death. Possible triggers of childhood depression include the death of a loved one or a move, divorce or change in life circumstance. Many children and adolescents experience these things and have no problems, while others struggle.
If you notice any of these signs, look closer and monitor your child’s behavior. Make notes about the behaviors that concern you, paying attention to the frequency and duration. Ask them how they are doing. It is surprising to many parents what their children do not tell them. Asking them directly might give you more information about what is happening. If a number of these signs are present, do not ignore or hope they will go away or think they are just normal. If you are concerned about your child, make an appointment with a mental health professional or the child’s doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.
You can call your insurance company and request a list of therapists in your area. There are a number of effective talk therapies and options about medications for more-serious situations. There also is information available online, at libraries and available from other sources. Accurate online information can be found on the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Web site, WebMD, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Web site.
Andy Schriver is a licensed clinical social worker with Blount Memorial Counseling and CONCERN. Schriver’s areas of practice include oppositional adolescents, parenting issues and family conflict, family therapy with children and adolescents, and severe and persistent mental health disorders.