Sometimes, children will have negative feelings and sadness as they grow up. It is part of progress, and the child needs to learn and understand how to deal with them. However, anxiety and depression in children are more than just the blues. They can result in a severe illness that affects their future mental and physical ability. Telling whether your child is just sad or depressed can be hard when considering depression in children under 10 years of age.
However, you can begin by looking into the following:
- How long have noticed the down mood?
- How cynical does your child appear to be?
- How do they engage in their daily activities?
- What is the magnitude of their feelings and thoughts in their life?
A parent knows his or her child better than anyone. So, if something is missing, then it is time to seek professional help.
In this detailed guideline, you will see that it will be hard for your kid to concentrate in class, make some friends in school or neighborhood, and do anything by themselves as part of daily life.
Table of Contents
- Quick Facts about Depression in Children
- What Is Depression?
- Types of Depression in Children
- What Causes Depression in Children?
- How to Tell If Your Child Is Depressed
- Diagnosing Depression in Children
Quick Facts about Depression in Children
- Depression is more than usual sadness, and it interferes with your child’s wellbeing.
- There is no specific cause of depression in young children. The condition can be from several psychological, biological and environmental factors that occur as the child develops.
- Statistics show that depression occurs in an average of 2% of children learning in school.
- Suicide is a major death cause for youth between 10-24 years old.
- Symptoms of depression in children are similar to those that adults show; A down mood for weeks and having several other clinical signs after diagnosis.
- A significant number of kids, about 60%, who take medication eventually improve. It may take up to 6 weeks before noticing signs of improvement.
In the US, the primary cause of disability is a depression in children above five years.
What Is Depression?
This is a mental illness associated with feeling irritable, sad, loss of interest and not worthy. At times, it graduates to thoughts of committing suicide. Regardless of age, it affects how people reason out and act. A depressed individual will change how he or she sleeps and eats, and is often not able to concentrate. A diagnosis is viable if symptoms persist beyond two weeks and they interfere with how the person functions.
Types of Depression in Children
Depressed children can have moderate or severe episodes which come as a major disorder with minor to average chronic depression. The specialists call that dysthymia. Bipolar depression in children is another type that results from psychosis (especially if the kid is having hallucinations), medically diagnosed hypothyroidism, and exposure to cold medications, or drug abuse such as withdrawal for cocaine. For children under the age of 10, withdrawal effect from drugs is not an ordinary case when compared to teenagers.
What Causes Depression in Children?
Like we said earlier, depression can be as a result of some combined risk factors. They include:
- Living a stressing life
- Physical medical condition like epilepsy
- Previous occurrence of depression in a family member(s)
- Environmental conditions
- Alcohol and drug usage
How to Tell If Your Child Is Depressed
Your child may show different signs when depressed. On the other hand, there is a commonality in what most parents or medical professionals see. Symptoms of depression in children involve the following:
- Frequent sadness and hopelessness feelings
- Anger and irritability
- Being sensitive to criticism or rejection.
- Withdrawing from family and friends or activities they initially enjoyed.
- Decrease or increase in appetite.
- Too much or not sleeping
- Difficulty or lack of concentration
- Frequent tantrums or crying.
- Feeling less energetic.
- Inability to function normally during group activities.
- Physical aches such as the head or stomach that do not respond to medication.
- Suicidal thoughts or talk.
- Feeling guilty and worthless.
Well, you will not note all of these in your child. Most of them will have different signs depending on the time and setting. Some children may go on to function as intended in adequately structured surroundings but the condition renders a depreciation in social activities, losing interest and performance in school work and may even extend changing the appearance.
If your child is experimenting with alcohol and drugs, it could be a sign that he or she is depressed and is looking for an exit plan.
Though not common in children under 12, the young can also attempt to end their life. They will do it impetuously when upset, anxious or angry. Reports show that girls will try to commit suicide more times than boys, but the latter is more likely to succeed in eventually killing themselves. A higher risk of suicidal thoughts is seen in children with a previous history of physical and sexual abuse, violence, alcohol and drug abuse. Another thing worth mentioning is that they are also at a higher risk of life ending if they see a household firearm or certain medications.
Diagnosing Depression in Children
Well, there will be no imaging or blood samples collection which means mental illness need a different approach when detecting its presence. If the symptoms discussed in the previous section have been around for the past two weeks and still progressing, then it is time you sort help from a medical professional.
You need to make sure that there are no physical projections from the symptoms and that your child is receiving the recommended treatment measures. One of the advice given to parents is that they should see a mental health care physician who has specialized in children cases.
For the evaluation, there are interviews involved between the doctor, you (the parent) and child. If necessary, more of psychological questionnaires and tests are conducted. Also, what you hear from friends, teachers and other children may serve as useful information towards the deteriorating change in behavior.
What you might think as a parent
You are the father or mother of a depressed child. So, sometimes you are obliged to deny that your young one has a problem due to how people view mental illness. On the other hand, you need to know that depression comes from a combination of risk factors. Having proper treatment means that you are paving the way for a better child transition into adulthood, both physically and emotionally. Lack of treatment and seeking help may leave your child affected throughout his or her life.
It is essential for you to be aware of the signs especially if they escalate to trying to commit suicide. If you feel that your child is endangering themselves, contact the emergency department near you.
Treating Depression in Children
Once there is a confirmation that your child has depression, the next part is treatment recommendation. It may involve getting rid of any underlying medical conditions that participate in worsening the mental complication. For instance, if your kid’s thyroid hormones are low, the doctor might suggest a hormone remedy such as levothyroxine.
Other procedures may utilize therapy in a bid to adjust the lifestyle and behavior, medication, and psychotherapy. Use of medicine is for those suffering from moderate to severe conditions. The results of medicine are achieved at a faster rate and retain for more extended periods when used together with psychotherapy.
In most cases, treatments go on for six months to one year if it is major depression with a motive of preventing future occurrence of symptoms. Getting the right medication renders a positive effect on how the child associates with family, fellow peers and also in school. Lack of treatment, on the other hand, worsen the condition with each day that passes and no room for improvement.
It involves talking to a professional so that you, child and therapist can all formulate ways to solve the depression problem. More often than not, this form of cure has a robust intervention that can result in positive changes in the child’s brain. For the young children, use of music and kids’ messages provides proper interventions. Here, we will discuss two kinds of psychotherapy used on children:
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
Both of them take weeks or months before completion, and the primary objective is to keep the depressive signs at bay. Severe depression combined with psychiatric symptoms will call for rigorous psychotherapy that will go on for more extended periods of time.
Abbreviated as IPT, this psychotherapy form is used to lessen the depression by giving the child options on how to effectively deal with emotions and how they relate to other people. To achieve the mentioned goals, IPT uses the following strategies:
- Informing the child, parents and other family members about the depression status. The healthcare provider reassures that it is a common complication that is treatable and most people get out of it.
- Explaining particular problems such as interpersonal conflicts. After definition, the therapist can proceed to set some achievable goals towards problem-solving and work together (child, parent, and therapist) in realizing the set objectives.
Abbreviated as CBT, it is an approach used to curb depression in children and prohibit the likelihood of coming back by helping the child change his or her way of thinking. Three methods used here include:
- Cognitive component: It identifies the assumptions and thoughts that play a part in changing behavior and especially make the victim depressed.
- Didactic component: In this juncture, the child becomes aware of the positive expectations after treatment, and it helps them in participating towards recovery.
- Behavioral component: Here, methods to modify the child’s behavior are used so that they can learn on how to deal with mental problems effectively.
Children have a group of prescribed antidepressant medications known as the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Abbreviated as SSRIs, the list of medicines seek to influence the serotonin levels in the child’s brain. Most of the professionals recommend anything that falls in the group due to the level of safety and effectiveness of the medicines designated in the group.
Some of the medications include:
Out of all the medications mentioned above, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends only Lexapro and Prozac for children depression cases. Prozac can only be used by children above eight years old and Lexapro for 12 years or older. The rest may not be recommended to your kid due to various reasons. For example, use of Paxil is not approved by many medical practitioners due to its inconsistency when it comes to the possible side effects on young ones.
In case of further medication to remedy the situation, atypical neuroleptic drugs such as Abilify and Risperdal can be added to the prescription. Though the FDA approves them for people living with schizophrenia, your child may have them too in addition to the antidepressant if:
- He or she has severe depression
- There was no improvement from prior prescription, or
- The patient has bipolar disorder.
If your child has severe unipolar depression, and the different antidepressants used do not improve the condition, then the addition of non-neuroleptic mood stabilizers is prescribed together with the antidepressant. Bipolar disorder cases may also have this too as part of the medication or in place of the antidepressant.
Some of the mood stabilizers include:
For the last one in the list, it is used mostly in unipolar depressed victims due to its unique ability in treating it by itself and also when combined with an antidepressant. However, a doctor will only recommend it to patients 16 years and above since it may result in some severe side effects for anyone younger than the recommended age.
Anything outside the SSRI specification works differently when administered to children. If the condition does not adhere to what is available on the SSRI side, the physician might recommend one or more of the following:
Statistics show that about 60% of young ones who receive antidepressants to improve their mental condition eventually upgrade their psychological ability. There is also a great suggestion towards improvement for the same which is known as the placebo effect.
The dosage effectiveness takes between 1-6 weeks. After commencing medicine intake, the prescribing physician will then follow up to make sure that your child is receiving medication as prescribed. He or she does this to verify if the medicine is tolerable and if the signs are improving. A case of no improvement leads to adjusting the dosage or having a different prescription.
After noticing improvement, the health care provider will advise the parents to continue providing the medication for the next six months to one year. Stopping all at once may bring back the symptoms and this time, for the worse.
Some patients may continue taking the appropriate medicine to prevent depression from occurring again. Apart from the depression return, an abrupt stop on medication may also bring the withdrawal effects which largely depends on what was prescribed.
Antidepressant side effects vary depending on the drug used and from one individual to another. They involve the following:
- A dry mouth, tremor, nausea, blurred vision, insomnia, dizziness, and constipation.
- Rare cases include being more depressed after taking medicine. The thoughts may go to wanting to commit As for the children and teenagers, they are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts despite the rare possibility during treatment. On the other hand, it is better to deal with the situation while under monitor than when left untreated.
Other possible treatment
At times, you might hear someone, and that may include the doctor, specifying on the use of herbal and dietary supplements. Something such as St. John’s wort for the herbal and vitamins C and B complex are widely used towards depression treatment.
However, despite their global use, little research has been done to determine the effectiveness, safety and the probable dosage variations for the patients.
With such a limitation, here are some points you need to take note of:
- Research is in progress on some of the known depression treatment alternatives for all ages to see how they work towards remedying the mental illness. Still, there is minimal evidence on herbal supplements in treating clinically diagnosed moderate to severe depression.
- Most medical professionals have not entirely bought the idea of prescribing dietary or herbal options especially when it comes to children. As per the safety regulations, the FDA has not yet provided regulatory measures.
What can you do while at home?
Apart from the workload, you have already subjected the medical practitioners, here are some of the things you can engage in a bid to make yourself useful in remedying the depression affecting your child:
- Your child is most likely to have negative thoughts. When this happens, chip in with positive thinking statements such as ‘I like it when we do this,’ ‘It was fun today’ or ‘deep down, I know you can do it.’
- Managing the stress and anxiety can include taking time for activities that can help relax their mind. Something a child enjoys may consist of a regular family routine.
- Nowadays, we have tablets and smartphones. Use them to look for apps that help your child learn some relaxing techniques. Most of the exercises focus on taking deep breaths, relaxing muscles and visualizing among others.
- Find time to talk with your kid to know how he or she feels. You could be driving, reading a book or during dinner.
- From the point of diagnosis, know that you and the therapist are a team. Talk to them so that you can see how you can be involved in some of the therapy sessions.
- If the child is attending school, make a point of notifying the teacher about the condition and discuss some of the ways to help your kid get back on track.
Depressed children find it difficult to get back to their friends or to engage in physical activities meant for fun. However, doing it is advisable for the overall improvement and general well-being afterward. Start small by encouraging him to go and play or hang out with friends for an hour or so per day.
Treating bipolar depression in children
Children who have bipolar disorder are subjected to psychotherapy together with antidepressants and mood stabilizers – a point we earlier jotted down in the medication sub-section. This type of depression needs caution when administering the antidepressants since they can lead to busting of manic depression in children.
Can Depression In Children Be Prevented?
Preventing depression comes as a result of a healthy and robust attachment to your child from infancy the last years of teenage. Fostering a healthy bond requires the parent or guardian to love and care unconditionally, adhere to child demands or be responsive enough towards providing the right guideline and administering the appropriate protocol towards child’s independence actualization.
You can also address the risk factors for depression, whether specific or not, solidifying the protective measures and have the right approach depending on the child’s stage of development. You could use the interpersonal and cognitive behavioral tactics together with the family-based prevention techniques since they are most active solutions according to research.
If your child is in adolescent stage and suffering from depression, protective measures may include:
- Having healthy relationships with family and peers
- Have some supportive fellow adults
- Learning to regulate emotions
- Equipping with healthy stress handling skills
If you are a depressed parent too, your child tends to improve on focusing on age-related tasks, relationships and also be able to understand what the parent is going through. On the other hand, you can prevent your child from contracting the mental illness by being a committed parent towards strong bonding between you and your children.
Looking Into the Future
Researchers, after an extensive study on depression in children, conclude that the first time occurrence of depression in the young generation is now happening at younger ages than before. Another thing worth mentioning, just like adults, depression may affect again in future.
Mostly, it occurs just like any other physical illness, and since it can result in serious mental disease as age progresses, an early diagnosis, treatment, and frequent monitoring become more vital.
As a parent, do not be afraid if your child has depression. We know what the social stigma dictates when it comes to such an issue. However, it is essential for you to understand what is happening to your kid before administering the appropriate measures towards treatment and recovery.
One tip for you to take home is seeking more information about the possible future depression effects your child may encounter as they transit into adolescence and finally adulthood.