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Childhood Distress

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 20 Mar 2013 | comments*Discuss
Depression Distress Depressive Illness

Depression isn't just experienced by adults. In fact it also affects many children each year and impacts the entire family. The symptoms of depression are often quite different from those experienced by adults and there is a greater onus on parents and educators to recognise depression symptoms in children.

Why Do Children Get Depressed?

There is no one answer for why kids get depressed. Stressful events such as moving house, death of a pet or family member and divorce can all trigger depression in a child. Other experiences that may contribute to childhood depression are:

  • Change to a new school
  • Someone in the home suffering from long-term illness
  • Bullying at school

Recognising Depression in a Child

As with adults, a diagnosis of depression is usually dependent on depression symptoms being present for two or more weeks. Some of the symptoms a child may experience are:

  • Feeling down or 'blue'
  • Tiredness and low energy
  • Not wanting to play with friends
  • Feeling angry, anxious or annoyed
  • Change in eating habits leading to weight gain or loss
  • Trouble focusing
  • Non-specific aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • No longer having fun and enjoying usual activities

Treatment for Children

The first examination will likely be with the child's primary care doctor, who will want to conduct a physical evaluation to ensure that it is not another illness that is causing depression symptoms. A referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist is also possible. Treatment may involve antidepressant therapy alongside counselling and other behavioural therapies. Family counselling may be required to address any familial issues that are affecting the child. Depending on the child's age, he or she may be able to contribute to the formulation of a depression management plan and this active role can be helpful during treatment.

A child's teachers should usually be informed of the depression and should know about any medications or other treatments that may be relevant to the child during school hours. It can also help for teachers to be aware of side effects from depression medications, so they can provide any assistance if side effects are uncomfortable for the child.

What Can Parents Do To Help?

As a parent, it's difficult to see your child unhappy and suffering. Parents often feel they are fully responsible for keeping their child happy and they may suffer from guilt when their child is diagnosed with depression. It's important for parents to obtain counselling as well as it can help deal with any guilt and frustration stemming from feelings around their child's depression. Some of the other things a parent can do are:

  • Encourage your child to participate in activities with friends and family members.

  • Monitor all medications and ensure that your child takes prescriptions on time.

  • Gently coax your child to eat a wide range of healthy foods.

  • Be open and supportive and let your child know that you are there to listen if he or she wants to talk, even if the talking involves painful feelings and worries.

  • Watch carefully for warning signs of suicide, which may include talking about death or your child giving his or her possessions away.

Depression can be a scary and overwhelming experience for children and also impacts parents and other family members. By obtaining diagnosis and treatment right away, your child can look forward to enjoying the teen and adult years, without depression.

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