By Teandra Gordon, Ph.D., Therapist and Legacy School-Based Clinics Therapy Director
When it comes to depression, we often think of it as an adult disorder. However, the National Institute for Mental Health indicates that more than two percent of children experience major depressive disorder. A 2015 study reported 12.5 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
Why youth become depressed
Depression can occur in children and adolescents for many reasons. They may have experienced a loss, stress at home or at school, or have challenges with self-esteem or self-image. The loss associated with natural disasters such as hurricane Harvey can also have a negative effect on kids’ mood or behavior. In addition, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry indicates that children with attention, learning, conduct and anxiety disorders are at higher risk for depression.
Recognizing youth depression
Kids often don’t know how to express difficulties that they are experiencing. As adults, it is important that we stay connected and aware of what kids are thinking, feeling and experiencing. Even if you are not a parent, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
Here are signs that a child may be experiencing depression: frequent sadness, tearfulness or crying; decreased interest in activities that were once enjoyable; hopelessness; low energy or persistent boredom; isolating themselves from friends and/or family; low self-esteem or guilt; acting increasingly irritable or angry; frequent complaints of physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches; lower grades; poor concentration; change in eating and/or sleeping patterns; and thoughts or expressions of suicide or other self-destructive behavior.
Overcoming youth depression
The good news is that depression is a treatable illness. If you notice that your child is experiencing these symptoms, below are a few ways you can help.
- Create connection. Spend quality time with your child and give him or her the opportunity to talk about what they are experiencing. Create opportunities for your child to form positive connections with others through extracurricular activities, spending time with safe and beloved family members, or other social outlets.
- Assess for safety. Ask your child directly if they have had thoughts of killing themselves or hurting themselves in any way. Seek professional help immediately, if safety is a concern.
- Increase activity and promote health. Physical activity, good-sleeping habits and healthy eating are all important in overcoming depressed moods.
- Instill hope. Children need to understand that what they are currently experiencing will improve and is only a small part of their life. Foster goals, dreams and hope for their future.
- Seek professional help. A combination of individual therapy, family therapy, and possible medication management can help your child to overcome the difficulties associated with depression.
As the director of therapy for Legacy’s school-based clinics, I know that childhood depression isn’t uncommon; but most importantly that it can be overcome.