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Child Depression and What Parents Can Do
Child depression is real
Many of us believe that being a child is synonymous with being happy, inquisitive and carefree. Children are commonly perceived as overly talkative, excessively curious and tirelessly playful individuals who love to ask questions and oftentimes say the darnedest things. This is generally true; however, children are people too, and experience almost the same things that adults go through from day to day.
While most children could be found frolicking, exploring their world and celebrating life in their own way, there are kids who are sullen and withdrawn, look distracted, and react to stimuli somewhat differently than others within their age group. There is a chance that they may be suffering from childhood depression.
What is child depression?
At least 5 in every 100 children suffer from child depression. Depression as a mental illness isn’t confined to adults exclusively. Children are also human after all, and can be prone to stress. If they are unable to handle stress, they may become emotional, introverted and filled with anxiety, resulting in depression.
Symptoms of Child Depression
Signs of child depression are closely similar to those of adult depression. However, because they are children, it is often difficult to tell whether they are simply acting their age, going through a stage, or already exhibiting abnormal behavior. Depending on the child, the symptoms of depression can come in different forms, but the most common tell-tale signs are:
- Sadness or melancholy
- Loss of enthusiasm in most activities
- Fatigue and irritability
- Nightmares and sleep disorders
- Refusal to go to school, an increase in school absences, a drop in academic performance
- Social withdrawal (rejecting friends or wanting to be alone)
- Aggressive behavior and emotional outbursts
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Frequent stomachaches, headaches or other physical complaints that occur for no apparent reason
- Sudden change in physical activity, usually extreme (as when lethargy substitutes liveliness or hyperactivity replaces serenity)
Causes of Child Depression
Child depression can be caused by many things. The child's biological make-up, his upbringing, and the environment he is in are factors that can affect how a child reacts to stress. Specifically, these causes are classified into:
- Genetics – some researches show that the likelihood of depression in a child increases when the family has a history of depression.
- Learned attitudes – sometimes a child’s own personality traits and the values he has been taught by a parent can be agents of depression. If the parent is himself/herself depressed, or too critical and pessimistic, he/she may be passing on the same vibes to the child. Conversely, there are children who are melancholic by nature. In both instances, the chances of a child suffering depression later on are high.
- Stressful event or traumatic experience – child abuse, death in the family, or separation of parents can bring about depression.
- Brain chemistry – more often than not, depression is attributed to chemical imbalance in the brain, and this chemical imbalance is itself brought about by the other causes mentioned previously: genetics, learned attitudes or stressful event.
What you can do as a parent
Understanding the reasons behind what is happening is always the first step to dealing with an issue. So as a parent, before everything else, find out the cause of your child’s depression. From there, you can make an informed decision on what to do next and how to help with your child’s problem.
However, it is important to always remember to tread with caution when administering treatment, especially because the patient is a child. Making the wrong move may do more damage than good, and can scar the child for life, often with irreversible consequences.
Some parents believe that science is the cure to all ailments, and may rely on drugs and medicine to “stifle” depression. But for a child, medication is generally frowned upon and regarded as a last resort, as there are side-effects on the child’s body and mind that both he and the parents may not be able to handle later on.
Counseling or therapy is by far the best choice, but the whole family has to be involved. A concerted effort on the part of parents, siblings and also other relatives that the child specially comes into contact with often is crucial in the child’s healing. They are seen as the ultimate support group, and can do more wonders than even the best psychotherapist in the world.
Still, as they say, prevention is the best cure. To start with, encourage your child to eat right, engage in wholesome play or sports, and have enough rest and sleep to guarantee a healthy mind and body. As your child grows, pressures mount and he will encounter stress, yet you should never make light of it! A child always thinks that what he’s going through is unique to him and therefore important, but that you will always have a ready answer no matter what. Be honest and reassuring, and if you suspect that he may be experiencing depression, talk to him about it openly. Communication is vital in every relationship, and that of parent-child is no exception.
If you feel that you need more help in raising your child, seek professional help or join a parenting class or lecture. Parenting is a tough job, but for our children, we will do anything!