Is your child sad or appear to have no affect at all? Is your
child preoccupied with the topic of death or other morbid
topics? Has your son or daughter expressed suicidal
thoughts or ideas? Are they extremely moody or irritable
beyond the normal hormonal twists and turns of childhood?
Has there been a drastic change in your child’s eating or
sleeping patterns? If you answered yes to any of these
questions, your child may be suffering from a common but
devastating mental health disorder, called depression.

The Problem:

Depression occurs in 8 percent of all adolescent lives.
Research indicates that children, in general, are becoming
depressed earlier in live. The implications of this is that the
earlier the onset of the illness the longer and more chronic
the problem. Studies suggest that depression often
persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, and
indicates that depression in youth may also predict more
severe illness in adult life. Depression in young people
often co-occurs with other mental disorders, most
commonly anxiety, disruptive behavior, or substance abuse
disorders, and with physical illnesses, such as diabetes.

The Risks:

Teenagers often turn to substances to “self-medicate” the
feelings of depression. They reject prescribed medications
because of the way it makes them feel and because of the
negative social implications of being labeled as depressed.
Drinking alcohol and using other substances may make
teenagers feel better for a short period of time but the need
to continually use these substances to feel “high” creates
dependence and poses a serious health risk. Depression
in adolescence is also associated with an increased risk
of suicidal behavior. Suicide is the third leading cause of
death for 10 to 24-year-olds and as much as 7 percent of
all depressed teens will make a suicide attempt.

The Signs:

Signs that frequently accompany depression in
adolescence include: • Frequent vague, non-specific
physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches,
stomachaches or tiredness • Frequent absences from
school or poor school performance • Talk of or efforts to
run away from home • Outbursts of shouting, complaining,
unexplained irritability, or crying • Being bored • Lack of
interest in playing with friends • Alcohol or substance abuse
• Social isolation, poor communication • Fear of death •
Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure • Increased
irritability, anger, or hostility • Reckless behavior • Difficulty
with relationships

Parents often witness these warning signs but fail to act on
them. Why? Because some teens hide the symptoms from
their parents or parents chalk it up to a stage or
moodiness. Many teenagers go through a time of dark
looking/acting behavior with all black clothing and bizarre
hair arrangements. This can throw a parent off of the trail of
depression by the bewilderment of teen actions and
behaviors. In addition, many teens react aggressively when
confronted about possible depression by their parents
causing mom and dad to back off.

The Solutions:

When dealing with teen depression, it is always better to
“be safe than sorry.” Coping with an adolescent’s anger is
much easier to deal with then handling his or her successful
suicide or overdose. When parents first notice the signs of
depression, it is important to sit down with their teen and
ask them, gently but firmly, if they are feeling depressed or
suicidal. Contrary to popular belief, asking a child if he or
she has had any thoughts of hurting or killing themselves
does not cause them to act on that subject. If the teen
rejects the idea that they are depressed and continues to
show warning signs, it will be necessary to seek
professional help.

If the child acknowledges that he or she is depressed,
immediately contact your physician and seek the assistance
of a mental health professional that works with children and
adolescents. In addition, parents can help their teen by
confronting self-defeating behaviors and thoughts by
pointing out their positive attributes and value. Parents may
need to prompt their teen to eat, sleep, exercise, and
perform basic hygiene tasks on a daily basis. Doing these
daily routines can dramatically help improve mood. Try to
direct the teen to hang out with positive peers. Steer them
away from other depressed adolescents. Explore
underlying feelings of anger, hurt, and loss. Even the
smallest loss of a friend or pet can intensify feelings of
sadness. Allow the teen to talk, draw, or journal about their
feelings without judgment. And for suicidal teens, make a
“no-harm” contract for 24 to 48 hours at a time when they
will not hurt themselves.

With proper care and treatment, depression can be
alleviated and suicidal behaviors prevented. Parents and
teen may even find a new, deeper relationship developing
between them as they work through the dark feelings of
depression.

Reference:

National Institute of Mental Health Web Site. “Children and
Depression: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.”
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depchildresfact.cfm

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