Children and Depression

249px-A Sad Child by David Shankbone.jpg

As difficult as it might be to accept, some children do suffer from depression, and some children do attempt suicide.

As many as 2.5% of all children in the United States suffer from depression at any given time. Most of these are boys, at least up until age 10. By age 16, more girls suffer from depression than boys.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as many as one in five teens will experience depression at some time.

Younger children are more likely to suffer from unipolar depression than bipolar depression. By adolescence, this changes. However, when bipolar disorder does occur in younger children it can be more severe than in adolescents, and may co-occur with or be masked by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or conduct disorder (CD).

The diagnostics for depression in children are more involved than those for adults. Children are growing and changing, and their expressions of frustration, sadness, anger or excitement are constantly maturing. It takes a skilled practitioner to determine that your withdrawn, irritable child is actually suffering from depression.

With children, depression is generally an expression of sadness, although younger children tend to act out more often. The diagnostic criteria for children include: irritability or anger; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; social withdrawal; continuous feelings of sadness or hopelessness; increased sensitivity to rejection; vocal outbursts or crying; difficulty concentrating; fatigue and low energy; impaired thinking or concentration; changes in appetite; changes in sleep patterns; physical complaints that don't respond to treatment; thoughts of death or suicide.

While relatively rare under the age of 12, young children do attempt suicide. In most instances it is an impulsive act that occurs when the child is angry or lashing out. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are more likely to succeed when they do attempt it.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Child is Depressed

Any child can go through a period of sadness, withdrawal or acting out. The key is to notice when it is either going on too long, or interfering with the child's enjoyment of life. If the child is not sleeping as well as before, if their appetite has changed significantly in either direction, if they no longer seem to find joy in any part of their day, then a visit to their pediatrician might be in order.

The changes in children that represent depression are subtle. Observation of the child's behavior, even to the point of keeping a diary about it, can help the doctor determine if there is a physical, rather than emotional cause.

A parent's instinct in evaluating their child should not be disregarded. The subtle behavioral changes are best observed by the parent. By the same token, parents should not hesitate to seek professional help when they suspect there could be a problem. Depression in children is treatable, and that treatment is most effective sooner rather than later.

Sources: WebMD and Kid's Health

Image: courtesy David Shankbone


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