Childhood depression: Do’s and don’ts for parents

Depression among children is difficult to diagnose. Children go through rapidly changing developmental phases in their age group and have successively changing psychological needs. The role of trauma, abuse and lack of parental care can all lead to the child developing depression in the long run

Childhood depression: Do’s and don’ts for parents
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Are you worried that your child may be depressed? Most kids have days when they feel sad, lonely, or depressed. But, if your child seems persistently sad or hopeless and it is affecting relationships, he or she may suffer from childhood depression, a serious  that needs medical assessment and treatment

Childhood depression is persistent sadness. When it occurs, the child feels alone, hopeless, helpless, and worthless. When this type of sadness is unending, it disrupts every part of the child’s life. It interferes with the child’s daily activities, schoolwork, and peer relationships. It can also affect the life of each family member.

It can be diagnosed and effectively treated with medications and/or psychotherapy. If left untreated, childhood depression can seriously affect the child’s mental health and can even lead to suicide.

Depression is the most common mental disorder, not only for adults but for children and teenagers as well.

A report from the World Health Organization states, Health for the World’s Adolescents (2014), depression is highlighted as the main cause of illness and disability for adolescents aged 10 to 19, and suicide; and the chief cause of death after traffic injuries and HIV/AIDS

Recent studies have reported the prevalence of childhood depression occurs among 17 per cent of the general population, i.e. 1 in every 5 children might get it once during their childhood.

Childhood depression: Do’s and don’ts for parents
Dr Tanay Maiti

What is different about childhood depression?

Depression is a very much bio-psycho-social entity, if not just an illness. Biological vulnerability, psychological construct and social stress all have a certain role to play in clinical depression.

Depression in childhood is hard to diagnose, because of rapidly changing developmental phases in children and ever changing psychological needs.

The role of trauma, abuse and lack of parental care all can seriously affect a child’s emotional and mental health. These can have severe consequences due to their vulnerable age growing needs.

More importantly, childhood depression rarely presents itself with common symptoms like low mood, low energy and low interest.

Irritable mood or ‘agitated’ version of depression is much common among adolescents whereas a withdrawn child is frequent presentation among the younger ones.

Parental role and red flags:

  • Interact with your children. Spend time with them. Both planned and unplanned. That’s the best way to understand them.
  • Notice any recent change of behaviour. Any change in food intake or sleep pattern.
  • Are they getting unusually angry? Always irritable? More tantrums? More into virtual world n less outdoor play? Keep a close check.
  • Children, specially the younger ones, often can’t describe/ communicate about their ‘low mood’. They may express it in a non-verbal way.
  • It may sound odd, but many physical complaint, including loss of consciousness (psychogenic origin) can be actually a manifestation or underneath depression.
  • Self-harm or suicidal attempts and even thought of the same are serious.
  • For any age people. These are cry for helps or vent outs for pain/agony. Whatever may be the reason, it requires attention. And probably some help.
  • Every couple have their own issues and problems. Try to keep those away from your child. Parents are often the biggest role models for developing children. Maintain that as much you can.
  • Motivate more and compare less. Understand and appreciate the qualities your child have, rather than criticising what he/she is not good up to. Trying to turn a PV Sindhu into an academic wizard is never a good idea.

Most importantly, there are treatments available for depression. Be it ‘talk’ therapy or ‘pill’ therapy. Remember, suicides are the leading cause of deaths only next to road traffic accidents among adolescents, since past few decades. Better to avail treatment before it’s too late.

The author is a Psychiatrist at Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore, Tamil Nadu

  • sayani mahapatra

    Really informative and helpful article, will suggest parents to read this. Thank you doctor.

  • tanay

    thanks a lot. for ur time and kind words.