Depression in children

Happy go lucky childhood

Childhood is a carefree, happy and blissful time. Infanthood as if was crafted only to be enjoyed by children (as well as their parents). But it’s not uncommon for our little ones to feel the pressures and strains of today’s life. They too can feel deep sadness and dejection inside their innocent hearts and innocuous minds. Children truly know how to feel pain. They sense deeper loneliness and neglect more than we are capable of even imagining. Our kids ‘know’ depression. And they can experience it.

How sad children are different

When people are sad they say they are depressed. However depression in children is a far more complicated process than that. Depression in adults is easier to treat because adults are capable of taking responsibility for their sentiments. They know what they are feeling and their emotions can be identified and picked up by others too. Children on the other hand do not know how to express what they are going through. A child will not walk up to you to say that he or she is feeling sad. It may be expressed as anger, aggression outbursts, shyness, mutism, or declining school performance, but direct expression of sadness by a child is rare.

Do they get over it?

Children cannot deal with depression any better than adults can. Children often choose to neglect what they feel. They believe they are strong and shouldn’t show their weakness. They hide emotions within themselves in the fear that they will be put down for feeling low. They fear that others will think they are weaklings and mock them. They fear they will lose respect for being cowardly. This makes them feel more lost and alienated. They get pushed from momentary sadness to pathological depression. It goes beyond their control. So how are kids expected to get over it?

The brain in depression

The neurochemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain begin to take shape and formulate their baseline levels in childhood. These form the base of one’s reactivity to situations in the future. Depression in childhood predisposes the little ones to react pessimistically and negatively to events as he or she grows up. It is preparing the child for depression and negative outlook for the future. That would be horrible. It needs to be corrected at once.

It’s not their fault

It is not a child’s fault that he or she is depressed. Depression occurs due to imbalance of the mood controlling chemicals in the brain. At times it may be triggered by a stressful event too such as death of a friend, relative or pet; moving to a new house or new school; or more commonly seen today, the hormonal changes of puberty. Depression is NOT a sign of weakness of character, laziness, or a lack of will power. Depressed children do not perform very well in their school, in spite of their intelligence and ability as the emotional turmoil interferes with intellectual development. Social relationships in these important formative years also suffer. The child tends to give up on life and gets disinterested in everything else around. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon today in children. With media exposure to a gamut of emotions and drastic negative outcomes, children deserve special attention.

There is hope

Treatment for childhood depression and negative thinking pattern in children is promising but it takes time and commitment from the parents, child, family members as well as the therapist. Help is always available; but you should be open minded and willing to accept it and make a difference in the life of your child. Stand by them and stand strong for them. They will observe you and gain that strength. After all, parents are ‘HEROES’, the best pillars of strength for their children. Depression can be managed with counseling, behavior therapy, play therapy, bibliotherapy and other psychotherapeutic options; as well as with minimal doses of medicines. In children the dosages are small and given for a shorter duration of time. Family counseling involving individual sessions with parents as well as the siblings is helpful. It is important to seek professional help well in time to prevent the depression from becoming severe; thereby hampering the child’s overall progress and development in all dimensions. The formative years set the base for the child’s mood and temperament in the future. It is important to mould the clay while it is still moist.

Depression physical signs

Things you may notice about a depressed child’s physical health

  • Alteration in their sleep pattern
  • Refusal to eat (any kind of) food
  • Unexplained tiredness or fatigue
  • Seeming dull and lazy all the time
  • Observable loss or gain of weight
  • Unexplained physical complaints

Depression behavior signs

Things you observe in a depressed child’s social interaction

  • Refusal to meet friends and family
  • Seeming bored during parties
  • Episodes of crying frequently
  • Behaving detached from others
  • Wanting to be alone all the time
  • Seeming jittery and less confident

Depression physical signs

Things you hear about depressed children in their school interactions

  • Declining performance in school
  • Dropping grades in examinations
  • Not paying attention in the class
  • School refusal without reason
  • Complaints of aggression in class
  • Reports of crying spells in school

Frequently Asked Questions

We are doing everything we can as responsible parents, how can our child be depressed?
Depression is not under your child’s external control. A slight chemical imbalance in the brain, rejection by peers, some form of emotional trauma, hormonal changes, adolescent crisis, all can lead to depression in young children and you cannot control it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can depression in children be treated without any medication?
Medication is used very sparingly in children. Behavior therapy, cognitive techniques and parental behavior modification pushes children out of their depression by building on their defenses. These time tested techniques do work.