Childhood Depression

Rates of childhood depression have been rising in the last several years. Yet, information and awareness about childhood depression has not caught on at the same rate. Many well-intentioned adults still believe that children ‘can’t get depressed. They are so young- what do they have to be depressed about? When we were that age, we were just happy’. Alongside misunderstanding is stigma and the idea that mental illness is a taboo subject.

What we now know

  • Childhood depression is a real, distinct clinical entity.
  • It is a serious health condition, which if left untreated, increases risk of future, prolonged and more severe depressive episodes. Untreated depression in childhood and adolescence can pose risk of suicide.
  • Depression often has biological, psychological and social underpinnings. An individualized treatment plan that explores and addresses each of these aspects, works best.
  • Effective treatment options for childhood and teen depression have been widely tested, proven and established, through several scientific studies over the years.
  • Childhood depression can be hidden and therefore, easily missed. Timely recognition and treatment can be life-changing and life-saving.
  • The barriers surrounding mental health stigma are beginning to give way due to powerful social movements and discussions that address realities of mental health.

Who is Affected by Depression in Childhood or Teenage?

Depression can affect anyone. However, children or teens who have immediate family members with a history of depression or other mood disorders (such as bipolar disorder) are more likely to suffer from depression, often due to a genetic predisposition. Predisposition implies greater likelihood; it does not mean that the child or teen will necessarily experience depression.

Children with chronic or severe medical conditions are at a greater risk of suffering from depression.

Common Signs of Depression in Childhood or Adolescence

Depression in childhood/adolescence can manifest somewhat differently than it does in adults. Irritability and/or anger are more common signs of depression in children and teens.

When depressed, younger children are more likely to have physical or bodily symptoms, such as aches or pains, restlessness, distress during separation from parents, as they may not have the emotional attunement and/or expressive abilities to talk about their emotions.

Other signs of depression in children and teens, can be:

  • Loss of interest in usual fun activities
  • Withdrawal from social or usual pleasurable activities
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Running away from home or talking about running away from home
  • Talking about death or dying, giving away (or talking about giving away) favorite possessions, writing goodbye letters
  • Sleep increase (or decrease)
  • Appetite/weight changes (more likely an increase, in depressed teens)
  • Occasionally, new or recent onset agitation or aggression
  • Comments indicating hopelessness or low self-worth

Not all of the above-mentioned symptoms have to be present for a diagnosis of depression. Symptoms usually occur on most days, for at least 2 weeks, in order to meet criteria for depression. When seeing a professional to explore a diagnosis, you can utilize online health resources to prepare meaningful questions to ask a doctor in order to facilitate productive conversation for treatment.

Excerpted from “Childhood Depression,” written by Richa Bhatia, MD is a dual Board Certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and published on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website.

Read the full article for details on:

  • Ruling Out Medical Conditions First
  • Ruling Out Other Psychiatric Conditions
  • Treatment
  • Overcoming Mental Health Stigma
Source: ADAA | Childhood Depression, https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/childhood-depression | © 2021 ADAA. Last revised 2018.

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