Children and adolescents can be depressed, just like adults. Depression is more than just feeling sad or blue. It is a medical disorder that can affect your child’s relationships, school performance and overall functioning. Depression can also be deadly. It can result in suicide and suicide is one of the leading causes of death in teenagers and young people. The good news is that both children and teens respond very well to treatment.
Depression affects people of all ages, sexes, races and economic backgrounds. Depression can happen in a single episode (only once) it can be recurrent (happen in cycles) or go along with a manic episode (high or euphoric mood).
Depression isn’t caused by one single event. It’s caused by a combination of factors and the causes vary from person to person. Depression can be caused by lowered levels of neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain that send messages to the nerves. While depression can be triggered by stressful or tragic events, they do not cause depression. Some studies show that depression runs in families. Stress or loss can trigger a bout of depression, but some depression happens without any kind of obvious external causes.
In some children and teens, the signs of depression are similar to the symptoms in adults. These include:
- Sadness, crying and feelings of hopelessness;
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Weight gain, or weight loss;
- Loss of enjoyment in their favorite activities;
- Complaints about physical problems that have no medical basis;
- Fatigue, inability to concentrate, boredom;
- Loss of self esteem;
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt.
Children may also show other kinds of symptoms. They include:
- Being afraid to go to school;
- Having exaggerated fears about other things like their parents dying;
In teens, depression can show in many ways:
- Sulking; Refusing to cooperate in family or school activities;
- Problems in school such as failing grades or fighting with peers;
- Engaging in risky behavior like drinking, drugs, sexual acting out, or breaking the law.
Symptoms of depression may also look like alcohol or drug abuse, Attention Deficit Disorder, or other kinds of problems. Watching the child carefully over a long period of time is the best way to make a diagnosis.
Treatment for depression starts with an evaluation by a mental health professional. Your mental health professional may also talk to you about your child’s general health and about situations at home or school that might be contributing to the depression. Be as honest as possible with the professional. They are not prying, they are only trying to get enough information to make an accurate diagnosis. Treatment may include medication, one-to one therapy, group therapy or family therapy. Therapy that focuses on helping your child to talk about her problems can help her learn skills to deal with problems and can help her see her problems in a new perspective.
School may or may not be a problem for a child with depression. Depression does not always show up as behavior problems in school, like other disorders such as ADHD. If your child has recently become depressed, your teacher may notice a drop in school performance and grades, and may contact you about her concerns. Some children do not come to the attention of teachers at all, because their depression causes them to become withdrawn. Other children will become involved in drugs, alcohol or dangerous behavior as a result of their depression. That is why it is important to be involved in your child’s school life. Changes that might not be obvious at home may show up at school.
Tips For Parents
- If you suspect your child is depressed, get help. Don’t dismiss your concerns or think that the symptoms will go away by themselves. They probably won’t and they might get worse.
- Don’t think you are responsible for your child’s depression, even if something you did (such as get a divorce) triggered it. It’s not your fault. Depression is no one’s fault.
- Don’t tell your child to "snap out of it." Depression is a real disorder and you can no more tell a person with depression to "snap out of it" than you can a person with diabetes.
- Let your child know you are there for her. Remind her you love her. Let her know over and over again, even if she gets angry and tries to push you away. She needs to hear this because she is feeling hopeless and worthless.
- Once your child begins to talk, let her talk about whatever she wants. Don’t make judgments or criticize.
Bipolar disorder is a disorder that can cause extreme mood swings. The mood swings can range from mania (excited, high or frantic) to depression (sad, hopeless) with periods or normal moods as well. It affects people of all ages, sexes, races and economic backgrounds, and is usually first diagnosed in adulthood. Occasionally, it is diagnosed in teenagers, and in rare instances, has been diagnosed in children as young as five.
In adults, these moods usually last weeks or months. In children or teens, the mood swings are much more frequent. In fact, in many children, the mood swings cycle many times within a day. A child with bipolar disorder may have other disorders such as ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse or oppositional disorders.
Everyone has mood swings, but a person with bipolar disorder has severe mood swings. The moods vary from mania to depression. The person’s feelings may be so intense that they lose contact with the real world. The symptoms of mania include:
- Feeling on top of the world
- Believing they can do things they can’t; extreme overconfidence.
- Hyperactivity - doing too many things in too little time.
- Sleeping very little without feeling tired.
- Being easily irritated or annoyed.
- Poor judgement that leads to dangerous, irresponsible or promiscuous behavior.
In a child with bi-polar disorder, the depressive symptoms are similar to the symptoms of someone with depression. The length and intensity of episodes vary between people. People also have periods of normal moods in between the high and low cycles.
Tips For Parents
- Don’t forget your parenting responsibilities. When your child acts out inappropriately, provide appropriate consequences for her behavior, even if you believe the behavior resulted from her mood instability.
- Don’t blame yourself. Poor parenting, divorce or lack of discipline does not cause bipolar disorder. Scientists now believe that it is caused by genetic and biological factors.
- Medication is one of the most effective treatments for bipolar disorder, so make sure she is taking her medication. It may take a while to find exactly the right combination of medications in the right dosage, so be patient.
- Learn all you can about the disorder and help your child learn all he can about the disorder. Get information from your doctor, from the library and from parent support groups.