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Counseling for Your Child's Depression

Updated on October 4, 2012
Childhood depression is real and treatable.
Childhood depression is real and treatable. | Source

For many years, childhood depression wasn't taken seriously as a condition. Most adults believed children could "bounce back" from anything, and assumed they would recover quickly.

But according to Webmd, between 2 and 5 % of children and teens in the U.S. suffer from depression. Other sources say 2 out every 100 young children, and 8 out of every 100 teens are diagnosed each year. The numbers reveal how widespread this condition truly is.

All children and teens have mood changes and difficulties on occasion - it's part of life for everyone. The time for concern is when you notice a prolonged period of behavior that seems unusual for your child, especially after a traumatic event.

Watching your child struggle with depression can leave you feeling helpless. Sometimes a parent can't deal with the complexities of their child's feelings in the most effective way. Or, even if what the parents say is just right, the child won't listen. In either case, there is quality counseling help available to bridge the gap in a family.

Possible reasons for depression:

Physical illness or a biochemical imbalance

A major loss, such as a family member or even a loved pet

Parents divorcing

Emotional, Physical or Mental abuse


School trouble, like bullies or struggling with academics

To get the most out of counseling, it's important to do some preparation beforehand.

First, think about and write down any possible depression symptoms you see in your child. Some, like acting out or withdrawing, may be obvious. But others can be more subtle: long times of sadness and trouble concentrating, for instance.

A younger child might cling a little more to mom or dad while being dropped off at school. An older child might be excessively irritable. General feelings of anxiety or guilt may take hold, or changes may occur in his eating or sleeping habits.

SNI medications are the most effective for depression symptoms.
SNI medications are the most effective for depression symptoms. | Source

Types of Treatment for Childhood Depression


If a child has some sort of chemical imbalance or if they need extra support, medicine can play an important role in treatment.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine are chemicals in the body which send out transmissions between parts of the brain. Effective medications regulate these neurotransmitter levels. They help to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as obsessive-compulsive and attention deficit disorders.

Both of these medication types increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine.

- Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRI's) - This group is used most often and includes brands such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac

- Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) - Examples of these are Cymbalta and Wellbutrin.

Note: No medication should be taken without professional medical supervision. A warning from the FDA notes that some anti-depression medications have been known to trigger changes in behavior or cause more depressive or even suicidal thoughts in certain children.

Play therapy helps younger children express their feelings.
Play therapy helps younger children express their feelings. | Source

Talk Therapy

A counselor may use one or several types of therapy to help your child:

  • Play therapy - uses toys, drawings and games to help the child express feelings
  • Interpersonal Therapy - deals with events and situations that effect a child's emotions and how to address the issues
  • Family therapy - includes the child's immediate family members in sessions aimed at improving overall relations and communication
  • Group therapy - offers a support system for several patients with related issues as they meet together
  • Cognitive Behavior therapy - examines faulty or confused thinking and beliefs

Diet Changes

Mental and emotional health is now known to be strongly connected to physical health. You and the counselor may want to take a look at this area of your child's daily life.

Several vitamins and minerals have been shown to help with depression symptoms:

Nutrients To Help With Depression

Foods That Contain It
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
pine nuts, pork
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
sun dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
chicken breast, mushrooms
Vitamin B-6
spinach, garlic
Vitamin C
oranges, kiwi, bell peppers
almonds, tuna and bananas
dairy products, broccoli
eanuts, chickpeas, dark chocolate
Complex carbohydrates
whole grain bread and cereal, fruit & vegetables
Every child needs a support system, especially when they're hurting.
Every child needs a support system, especially when they're hurting. | Source

Finding a Counselor

Start with the guidance counselor at your child's school. This person will have met your child and may already be familiar with the issues involved. A school counselor can usually do short-term work to help your child work through simpler problems. And should your child need more, he or she will have a list of local resources and information.

Beyond the school district, contact your pediatrician, Pastor/Priest, or even your local youth clubs. With the referrals you get, look for information on qualifications and background.

Several websites, such as, provide a list of responsible counselors and therapists in most areas of the U.S., as well as several other countries.

Questions Parents Should Ask Before Starting Counseling For Child

For your child's good, you and the new counselor need to be working together. Expressing your questions and concerns will help everyone get on the same page.

Here are some things you might want to ask:

1. About the Counselor:

What is your specialty? Are you willing to try other methods if needed?

Can we contact any former patient's families to get feedback?

Do you work with our insurance company? (Note: This also applies to any medications prescribed.)

2. About Medications:

How effective has this drug been with other children?

What is the timeline for seeing improvement?

Are there side effects with this drug?

Will it badly interact with any other drugs my child is taking?

Will this drug effect my child's activity level or specific activities?.

Counseling Goals For Children

If the child is young, the parents and counselor should set goals together. An older child should have a say in their own goals if possible.

Start with the list of recent issues or behaviors that you think need addressing (i.e. my daughter has become very withdrawn over the past couple of months) Write down questions and concerns you have (i.e. Is it normal for my son to sleep so much?).

Once you and your child meet with the counselor, that list will most likely be the basis for a treatment plan. From there, she can give you some overall goals she will be aiming for with your child as well as the whole family.

How To Prepare Your Child for Counseling

Explain that will be different than a regular doctor appointment - no physical exam, just talking.

Be clear about why you are going - to help things get better.

Reassure your child that he is not being punished, or that you blame him for the difficulties.

Be sensitive to and acknowledge your child's opinion and feelings about going. But remain firm and keep the first appointment.

Measuring Progress

While it's natural to want quick results, patience is vital. Every child has a different personality and set of circumstances, so the timeline can't be set in stone.

Look instead for positive changes in behavior and mood. Even the smallest movement forward is a milestones to acknowledge and celebrate. You will hopefully find your home atmosphere improving as both you and your child heal and grow together. That can encourage all of you on to even better things.


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    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      Absolutely true - getting sugars and fats out and fiber into my diet really made a difference when I was dealing with depression!

    • aykianink profile image

      aykianink 5 years ago

      "Nutrients To Help With Depression" Good chart. Eating healthy really is a solution to so, so many problems...