Childhood Depression

Learn how I beat Depression

One of the most common responses to hearing that a child has depression is, “But what does he/she have to be depressed about?” This statement reveals two major misconceptions. One is the lack of understanding about clinical depression. It is not the same as the “blues” or “down” moods that everyone has from time to time, which may actually be caused by unhappiness with one’s job, home life or other factors. Clinical depression may resemble these emotional dips, but it is much more pervasive, long-lasting, and life-threatening. It is not necessarily caused by an event or state of affairs in a child’s life. The other misconception is that childhood is a carefree, trouble-free period in our lives. How many people can say that they didn’t worry about peer acceptance, grades, or parental expectations? Adults often forget that children are powerless and have no control over their own lives. This can be a frightening and frustrating state of affairs to live through day after day.

Causes of Childhood Depression

As with adult depression, diagnosis of depression in children is not as clear-cut as it is for other ailments. There is no test that can be given which will positively say that an individual has depression, much less pinpoint the cause(s). The medical community still knows relatively little about the brain, how it works, and what makes it malfunction. In fact, anti-depressant properties of certain medications were discovered by accident in the 1950s while seeking a cure for tuberculosis.

We do know that certain children have risk factors in their lives which could predispose them to depression or could “trigger” depression. Among these are a family history of mental illness or suicide, abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), chronic illness and the loss of a parent at an early age to death, divorce or abandonment. However, some infants exhibit depressive symptoms at an early age before most of these factors come into play, so there is an argument to be made for depression being wholly chemical in some children. Each child’s depression is individual, and causes will be different for each one. The depression could be wholly chemical, wholly due to psychological factors, or a combination of the two. More important than the cause is identifying the illness and treating it.

Symptoms of childhood depression

• Persistent sadness and/or irritability.
• Low self-esteem or feelings or worthlessness. A child may make such statements as, “I’m bad. I’m stupid. No one likes me.”
• Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
• Change in appetite (either increase or decrease).
• Change in sleep patterns (either increase or decrease).
• Difficulty concentrating.
• Anger and rage
• Headaches, stomachaches or other physical pains that seem to have no cause.
• Changes in activity level. The child either becomes more lethargic or more hyperactive.
• Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Any change in a child’s behavior that seems to have no external or physical cause should be looked at. A low mood which results from a loss (death of a loved one, moving, changing schools) which lasts more than a few weeks should be considered possible depression and checked out.

If the child has bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, these symptoms could be present:

• abrupt, rapid mood swings
• periods of extreme hyperactivity
• prolonged, explosive temper tantrums or rages
• exaggerated ideas about self or abilities

Bipolar disorder is often mis-diagnosed as attention-deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder
Depression often goes hand-in-hand with other mental illnesses or disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder, and, especially in teenage girls, eating disorders and self-injury. If any of these conditions are present, they need to be treated along with the depression for treatment to be effective.

Childhood Depression Treatment

The parents of any child who is in immediate danger of harming himself or others should consider hospitalization. This is a tough choice for parents to make, but it must be emphasized that children do commit suicide.

Once a child has been diagnosed with either major depression or dysthymia, both psychotherapy and medication could be options. More and more, doctors are realizing that chemical imbalances often account for mental illness, but at the same time, the importance of psychotherapy cannot be discounted. If a child’s depression has been caused wholly or in part by psychological factors, medication may relieve the depression, but the underlying cause will not be “cured” by medication alone. Therapy can help the child deal with his past in a healthy manner, and also in learning ways to cope with the very difficult process of growing up.

Antidepressant medication for children is a controversial topic. There are no long-term studies that show what kind of impact this medication will have on a child’s development. The maker of the antidepressant Effexor, in fact, has warned against it being prescribed for children, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued the same warning for Paxil. There has also been some question as to whether the older tricyclic antidepressants are effective with children. Most professionals will recommend therapy as a first line of defense for a child with depression, except in cases where the child is severely depressed or suicidal.

But keep in mind that it is almost a certainty that depression will have negative long-term effects on the child and his family. From my own experience, I am positive that my growing up with depression had negative effects on the development of my personality. For instance, even with my successful treatment with antidepressants, it’s very hard for me to completely shake the crippling shyness I grew up with. The decision of whether to treat a child with medication is wholly individual, depending on the severity of the child’s depression and what toll it will take on the child’s life without successful treatment. Parents should educate themselves as much as possible in order to make an informed decision.

Note: Bipolar disorder must be ruled out before a child is prescribed antidepressants for depression or stimulants, as these can trigger mania.

Learn how I beat Depression

7 Comments

  1. yanira
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I think that I have always been depressed. I am 30 years old now and still depressed. I don’t really know how to be happy

  2. Carmela Ryan
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Yanira,
    I’m not a professional but these are things i try to do every day/week to fight depression or anxiety.
    exercise
    drink a lot of water
    thank God for what i do have
    tell someone every day how special they are to me
    read the bible, pray
    go outside and thank god for everything he created
    try to help someone, a neighbor, friend with a friendly chat

    good luck

    Carmela

  3. Chrys
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I am a mother of a child that suffers from childhood depression… it is mild but i worry about it turning into something more over time. I watch my daughter struggle in her work and how she acts out when she feels worthless.. It becomes harder when everyone is so busy pointing blame at the parent, for lack of displine instead of trying to understand and give support…
    There seems to be not enough support for these children who suffer with depression.. only blame. And we wonder why we loose our kids in a system that cares so little, where did we go wrong? I’m so grateful for sites like this… It helps me get the word out. Right now, Im trying to get that word out to the school systems where we live. I have yet to find one person in the educational system that knows what dysthemia is…… Image how they treat these children cause they dont understand them. It is heart breakin.
    We have come across some very caring teachers, but put against the ones that think it is displine problems and it is one step forward with 2 steps backwards..

  4. Benita Lee
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I can relate to symptoms of depression. I have had an eating disorder now for the last 10 years it started when I was 16 years old it was like food became my life all I thought about was food and what I looked like my weight has been up and down and my moods have been really bad I was with a partner for 8 years of my life that really I loved very much we had a child together and I pushed it all away bacause of this problem that I have had its like I hate myself so I wont let anyone near me I took my anger out on the ones that I loved I lost friends through my illness and became very isolated from the world I couldnt work and still dont I have a boy of 5 years old and I love him dearly but he isnt with me he is with his dad the eating disorder has made me feel like i am sucidal I dont laugh anymore and I cant even walk outside I feel guilt every day its like I cant face people it is really worring because I am scared that I might lose everything at the moment I am at my lowest ebe it has got to the point that I am not even caring for myself anymore

  5. sally
    Posted September 10, 2009 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    im 14 and i dont know how to tell my parents that im depressed because they think i have a perfect life. what do i do?

  6. admin
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    You really need to find someone to speak with… maybe a close family member or a Doctor ….

  7. carey
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I have a 5 year old who has struggled for years with the separation of me and his father. His father treats me really bad in front of him and it makes my son cry. I have tried and tried. My son used to share with me, everything that happened over at his Dads/Nanny’s house. Now, he is holding the hurt in and he is cursing at me, trying to hit me laughing at every punishment. I am a good mother and I pray and pray over this, I want my son to feel the good things in olife not just the anger and sadness. Help!!carey

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