National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Depression affects approximately 5% of children and adolescents in the US. Possible risk factors include family problems, illness and lack of support.
Symptoms of Depression in Children and Adolescents
Some of the following symptoms may be present in young people with depression:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness
- Feelings of self-hatred, guilt
- Feelings of anger, irritability
- Loss of interest/enjoyment in activities
- Poor school performance, absenteeism
- Abuse of drugs, such as alcohol
- Spending a lot of time alone
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Tiredness and lacking in energy
- Sleeping problems
- Changes in appetite
- Frequent minor health complaints, such as headaches
It may be difficult for parents and teachers to pick up on depression, especially as young people may find it difficult to express how they are feeling. Having an awareness of symptoms helps people know what to look out for.
Causes of Depression Children and Adolescents
The causes of depression remain unknown, but biological and genetic factors may play an important role. Possible risk factors include:
- The presence of other illnesses or disorders, for example, attention disorders.
- Life stressors, such as experiencing loss, being bullied at school and difficulties at home.
- Other life changes, such as moving to a new home and/or school.
- Lack of support, such as having nobody to confide in.
The Role of Parents and Teachers in Depression
Adults should keep in mind that young people may find it difficult to come forward about their depression. When depression is suspected, parents at teachers can help by:
- Taking it seriously. As is the case with adult depression, young people cannot simply “snap out of it”. Even mild depression can be a symptom of other problems, such as thyroid disease. It is for this reason that is may be prudent to visit a doctor to seek a proper diagnosis. Young people are also more at risk of suicide and may disclose about it. Comments on suicide should always be taken seriously.
- Adopting a friendly and sympathetic approach and listening to what he/she has to say.
- Learning about depression, including becoming informed about local services such as support groups.
Self-help for Depression in Children and Adolescents
Talking may help ease the burden of depression. Friends, parents, teachers, school counselors and doctors are some examples of people who may be able to listen. Young women who are concerned about pregnancy can contact their local crisis pregnancy center or Planned Parenting clinic for information and support.
Eating healthily and keeping active may also be beneficial. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are being researched as a possible treatment for depression in young people. These can be found in oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), linseed and walnuts.
Treating Depression in Children and Adolescents
This type of depression is treatable, however, it differs from adult depression, where the majority of research lies. Like adults, young people are individuals and what successful treats one may not work for another.
Treatment may include:
- Psychological therapies. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and interpersonal therapy are examples of talking treatments that have been shown to be helpful to children and young people.
- Antidepressants. These are sometimes used in combination with talking treatments. The SSRI antidepressant fluoxetinehas been shown to help some young people with depression. Future research may show that other drugs in this group may also be suitable for young people.