Although most people think depression is an adult disease, children and adolescents can also suffer from depression. Unfortunately, many children with depression do not receive treatment because adults do not realize that they have depression.
It is important for parents, teachers, and other adults to understand childhood depression. When you understand the symptoms of depression in children and the causes of depression in children, you can intervene in beneficial ways.
The manifestations of depression in children and adolescents are usually different from those in adults. Irritability and/or anger are more common symptoms of depression in children and adolescents. In addition, young children often find it difficult to explain their feelings, while teenagers may try to hide their emotional pain and fear the judgment of others.
Since the child’s normal behavior will change as the child grows up, it can be challenging to understand whether the child is going through a certain stage or a more serious situation. The first step in helping your child fight depression is to learn how to spot it.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, common symptoms of depression in children and adolescents last longer than two weeks and include:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling or appearing depressed, sad, tearful, or irritable
- Fatigue or feeling lack of energy
- Feel guilty or ashamed
- Harder to concentrate
- Loss of interest or fun in previously liked activities
- Psychomotor slowdown or agitation
- Recurring thoughts of suicide and/or death
- Sleep disorders: insomnia or insomnia almost every day
In addition to the above symptoms, some children also have physical discomforts such as stomach pain and headache, substance abuse and poor academic performance.
Children are usually less likely to encounter Mental Disorder Diagnosis and Statistics Manual (DSM-5) Criteria for depression. As we age, the symptoms become more in line with DSM-5 standards.
Although stressful life events such as divorce can cause depression, this is only a small part of the problem. Many other factors, including genetics, also played a role in its development.
There are many different factors that can cause depression in children, including:
- Brain chemistry: The imbalance of certain neurotransmitters and hormones may affect the way the brain works, which can affect mood and mood and increase the risk of depression.
- Environmental factors: Stressful, chaotic, or unstable family environments can also make children more likely to suffer from depression. School rejection and bullying may also be a contributing factor.
- Family history: Children whose family members also suffer from depression and other mood disorders are at greater risk of developing symptoms of depression.
- Stress or trauma: Sudden changes, such as moving or divorce, or traumatic events, such as abuse or assault, can also cause depression.
Anyone can suffer from depression. This is not a sign of weakness. If your child is depressed, it is not your fault.
If you think your child is showing signs of depression, please make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss your concerns.
Before making a diagnosis, your child must undergo a comprehensive physical and medical evaluation. Both will rule out any underlying health conditions that may cause the symptoms you are seeing. For example, thyroid problems, anemia, and vitamin deficiencies can all mimic the symptoms of depression.
Although there are no specific tests for depression, the doctor may use one or more psychological assessments to further assess the type and severity of depression your child is experiencing.
Classification of depression
When your child is diagnosed with depression, it is usually classified by severity:
According to DSM-5, this classification is based on the number, type, and severity of symptoms, and how much they interfere with your daily life.of
If your child is diagnosed with mild depression, their doctor will actively monitor their symptoms before recommending any form of treatment. If their symptoms persist after 6 to 8 weeks of support, they will be referred for psychological treatment. If your child is initially diagnosed with moderate to severe depression, their doctor may skip this step and start treatment immediately.
Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two have been shown to help young people suffering from depression. The type of treatment recommended for your child will depend on the nature and severity of their depression.
If your child is diagnosed with mild depression, APA recommends psychotherapy as the first-line treatment. For adolescents with moderate to severe depression, studies have shown that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best.
In psychotherapy, a mental health professional will help your child develop the skills needed to manage depressive symptoms so that they can work normally at home and school. Two types of psychotherapy are recognized as the first choice for children with depression:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps improve children’s mood by identifying negative thoughts and behavior patterns and replacing them with positive ones.
- Interpersonal Relationship Therapy (IPT): A way for therapists to help young people learn how to deal with interpersonal problems that may cause or be caused by depression.
APA recommends that psychotherapy is always an integral part of the treatment of depression in children and adolescents.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered first-line antidepressants for young people suffering from depression. Only two SSRIs—Prozac (fluoxetine) and Lexapro (escitalopram)—are approved by the FDA for use in young people with depression.
If their doctor thinks this is in your child’s best interests, they may also prescribe a different SSRI or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). This is called off-label use, and it is quite common practice.
Antidepressants and suicidal thoughts
Although antidepressants are an effective way to treat depression in children, their use is associated with serious side effects, such as suicidal thoughts in people under 25. Although such side effects are rare, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires all antidepressants to carry a black box warning, indicating an increased risk of suicide.
This does not mean that people in this age group should not use antidepressants. This simply means that they should be carefully monitored by doctors and caregivers, especially in the first few weeks after starting to take antidepressants.
For mild depression, lifestyle changes are usually an effective way to resolve depression. Methods such as finding ways to relieve stress, exercising regularly, using relaxation techniques, and building a stronger social support system can help improve your child’s feelings.
Here are some positive steps you can take to encourage healthy coping skills and support mental health:
- Talking about how caring for the body can also help the mind. Explain how eating nutritious food and doing a lot of exercise can benefit their mental health.
- Make sure your child has a consistent sleep schedule. Turn off the device before going to bed and make sure your child goes to bed and wakes up at the same time every day.
- Help your child develop a rich social life without over-arranging time. Assign responsibilities and reward them for being responsible.
- Teach your children how to solve problems, manage their emotions in a healthy way, and develop strategies that will help them cope with failures and setbacks. Also talk about your mental health, and keep healthy as your family’s top priority.
Ultimately, the guardian decides which treatment plan to use. It is important for parents and children to understand the treatment methods and the potential risks and benefits of each option.
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Childhood depression can have a serious impact on a child’s life, so it is always important to pay attention to the warning signs that a child may suffer from depression. Talk to your child about their feelings and be supportive and non-judgmental.
Fortunately, early intervention can help children get back on track before depressive symptoms seriously affect their ability to live and work.