Studies aimed at understanding depression in children have been a field of intense research in the last two decades. Infants, toddlers and kids under thirteen years old have been observed and some of them have been found to display depressive behavior. Surprisingly, even infants have been observed to show sadness, sleep and eating problems, fatigue, fussiness and tantrum fits. Although not all bouts of bad moods and feelings of melancholy can be classified as depression; it is the lingering of such behavior over prolonged periods of time that is cause for worry.
Symptoms & Signs
The primary symptoms of depression in children usually include persistent feelings of sadness along with a feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness, especially in the slightly older ones. It is generally accompanied by severe mood swings including anger and irritability. There is a perceptible change in appetite and sleep patterns, it may be either too less or too much. It may also lead to social withdrawal and extreme fear of rejection. The child is plagued by fatigue, low energy and poor concentration levels. These may be accompanied by vocal outbursts and intermittent crying in some of the kids. Complaints of physical pain such as stomach aches or headaches that do not respond to conventional medicines are also indicative of depression.
These symptoms are only indicative in nature and not all children who are depressed display all the symptoms. Some may exhibit different symptoms at different times and under different circumstances. They undergo a noticeable reduction in their ability to function in extra-curricular activities, events, and academic performance in schools. Although a relatively rare phenomenon, some kids do attempt suicide in fits of anger or frustration. Children above twelve years of age are also vulnerable to drugs and alcohol abuse in depressive state of mind.
However, depressed children especially those with suicidal tendencies do display some warning signs and parents need to be vigilant to banish such morbid thoughts in their child. Some of the warnings of depression are talks about death and dying, focus on negative aspects of things, reduced emotional expression, hyper sensitive behavior, social isolation, lack of interest in friends and all fun filled children’s activities.
As in the case of depression in adulthood, the possible causes for the onset of depression in children is rather obscure. Depression is believed to be caused by disruption of neurotransmitters levels in the brain thereby interfering in the person’s ability to feel good. Depression is in all probability a combination of a number of factors that may include after effects of physical illness, family history, and certain events in their life and hormonal imbalances in the body.
Treatment For Depression In Children
In case the parents are able to detect the signs of depression in their child, the real bit of good news is that professional help is effective in dealing with the problem. Depression can be treated holistically with psychotherapy and medicines in consultation with the child’s pediatrician. Medications for treating depression in children may in extreme cases also include anti-depressant pills to cure school phobias, panic attacks, bed wetting in older children and other anxiety disorders. Other medication options that may be administered after the prescription by a qualified doctor could include anti-psychotic medications for hallucinations, disillusions and disorganized thinking. Mood stabilizers, anti convulsions and sleep medications are also used for short duration of times.
Psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy is shown to be very effective in treating depression in children. Other effective depression remedies include Dialectical Behavior Therapy for slightly older children with suicidal tendencies. This often involves both group and individual sessions for completer relief. Family therapy focuses on involving all the members in the family in helping the child cope with his problem. This helps open up communication channels between the child and his immediate family members and well wishers.
Sometimes, these sessions may be held together in groups of patients and families with a common counselor. This helps in finding how different families cope with the same illness; it is a great learning experience for all those who are involved in the therapy sessions. Play therapy is truly beneficial in cases of kids who are unable to verbalize their problems.
All the above mentioned therapies and remedies are no quick fix solutions, they require considerable amount of time and patience. Treating mental depression remains a formidable task, yet with a sustained and concerted effect the child can bloom into a healthy and pleasant adolescent and adult.