The topic of depression in children has never really been on the forefront of my mind until recent months. A few months ago, a friend’s 9 year old daughter uttered possibly one of the most chilling 5 words you’ve ever heard come out of a child’s mouth.
“I just want to die.”
Without going into the details, I can tell you that the circumstances surrounding the statement were enough to throw off the mental health of even an adult. Coupled with the pressures of adolescence and overall hormonal changes, there was no doubt that this little girl was going through a hard time. I haven’t heard her say those words again since, but there have been some behaviors that are a growing concern to me, as I suspect that she may be experiencing depression.
However, truth be told she’s not the first child I’ve seen go through this. Even my 6 year old gets in these weird funks sometimes, but I can’t tell if it’s something serious or if it’s just because she’s my child. (Keeping it real) When that happens, I tell her to excuse herself and let out a good cry in her room to regain her composure and that usually does the trick.
But how can you tell the difference between just a little childhood fit, occasional bad day, or full on clinical depression in children?
Before talking to my friend and causing unnecessary concern, I thought the best thing for me to do would be to arm myself with as much information as possible about the topic of depression in children to better understand what to look for and what role I can play in helping this family.
Here’s some important information I’ve found about depression in children:
Childhood Depression Causes and Risk Factors:
It’s important to note that not all kids react to the pressures and sadness in life the same. In other words, every child that undergoes a tough experience will not necessarily become diagnosed with clinical depression. However, these are the factors that could play a role in depression in children:
- Heredity – According to Families for Depression Awareness, there’s a 25% chance a child could suffer from depression if one parent suffers. That percentage jumps to 50% if both parents suffer from depression.
- Trauma – Life changing events such as death of a loved one, divorce, abuse, etc. can weigh very heavily on both children and adults alike. However, since children have not yet developed the necessary coping skills, such traumatic events can often affect children in a different way and lead to depression.
- Hormonal or Chemical imbalances – These can come naturally from puberty when hormones kick in. Depression in children is usually diagnosed during that time. According to the experts, it is likely that children who suffer from depression do not produce adequate amounts of the chemicals in the brain that regulate emotion, called neurotransmitters. These are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Childhood Depression Signs:
According to the experts, if your child displays 5 or more of these symptoms or behaviors, for an extended period of time (2 weeks or more), these may be potential signs of depression:
- lacking energy or complaining about being bored or tired
- suffering from low self esteem
- giving away favorite belongings
- irritable or angry for no apparent reason
- no interest in spending time with friends or other activities they used to enjoy
- frequent stomach or head aches
- weight loss
- excessive sleeping
- talking about running away from home
- grades suffering in school
- talking about hurting or killing his/herself
I would warn to go against the experts on that last one and say that if your child is talking about harming his/herself, it’s worth investigating that immediately, regardless of the other symptoms.
Treatment for Depression in Children:
First and foremost, if you believe you are seeing signs of depression in your child, speak to your Pediatrician, who may then refer you to a mental health specialist. I know many experts will recommend anti-depression medication to treat depression in children, however, please note that this is where my personal philosophies as a Chiro-wife differ from the suggestions of these experts. I would just encourage you to seek second opinions before administering medication. While medication may certainly help with treating depression, I have heard of cases where alternative methods such as changes in diet and exercise habits help as well. This is a personal decision only a parent can make, however. I AM NOT A DOCTOR!