Is My Child Depressed? What You Should Know About Childhood Depression

What the Numbers Show

Research has shown that children, even babies, have experienced depression. In the United States alone, research studies suggest that up to one percent of babies, four percent of preschool-aged children, five percent of school-aged children, and eleven percent of adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Blog-Childhood Depression-Main-Landscape-01

It is important to understand the risk factors and symptoms of childhood depression to help your child receive the necessary therapeutic interventions. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults aged 10 through 24 (http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/). Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early detection and diagnosis is critical and sometimes even life-saving.

Symptoms of Childhood Depression

Just like adults, children are capable of changes in mood, expressing negative thoughts, but are more likely to show depressive symptoms in behavioral ways. For example, a child experiencing depression may complain of fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, or experience irritability, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns. These physical symptoms, often known as somatic symptoms, are expressed physical aches and pains that are real experiences for your child, although they have no known medical causes. These somatic complaints are often common in children who experience depression. It is important to rule out physical illness or other medical problems with your pediatrician if your child is experiencing these symptoms.

What Parents Can Do to Help

Parents are a child’s greatest advocate and support, so it is important to know what to do to help your child if you suspect that he or she is struggling with depressive symptoms.

  • Talk about depression with your child. Support and encouragement through open communication help your child feel comfortable to express his or her feelings. This lets your child know that he or she is not alone, is loved, and understood.
  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician. Mental health is just as important as your child’s physical health. If you notice your child is experiencing symptoms of childhood depression, call your pediatrician to alert him or her of your child’s emotional concerns. Your pediatrician may recommend a diagnostic screening or refer to an outpatient licensed therapist.
  • Don’t ignore it! Depression is a serious mental illness that cannot be brushed aside or ignored. Ignoring your child’s emotional concerns will not help your child obtain the treatment that he or she needs to overcome depression.

Treatments Offered

Depression is a treatable illness with success rates of up to 80% for children and adolescents who receive therapeutic intervention. The other 20% may respond well to medicinal interventions along with traditional therapy (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/what-adults-need-to-know-about-pediatric-depression/). Recommended treatments include play therapy, family therapy, and individual talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps children re-frame their negative thinking patterns to help them change their self-perception and consequently, improve their mood. Cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented, problem-solving focused, and is one of the most commonly used interventions to treat depression.

Medicinal options are another commonly used treatment for children who experience depression, with the goal of reducing depressive symptoms. The majority of children who take antidepressant medications will be able to stop their medication with support from their pediatrician or psychiatrist when their symptoms improve. It is important to note that the use of antidepressant medication for children and adolescents may carry a higher risk for suicidal thoughts for this population. It is imperative to receive ongoing medication monitoring to assess risk of side effects and other interactions.

I Think My Child is Depressed. What Should I Do?

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing depression, it is recommended that you contact your pediatrician. Share your concerns and plan for a medical evaluation to begin the diagnostic process. If medical testing shows no other reason for the fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, sleep, appetite changes, or sadness that often come with depression, a licensed mental health professional will evaluate further to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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