Jaida was confused. She couldn’t wrap her head around her son’s behaviour lately. He just wasn’t himself. And if she was honest, he hadn’t been himself for quite some time. He was withdrawn, and had a listless air about him most days.
It was beginning to worry her. “Abi is my child depressed,” she thought to herself. If he were an adult, she would easily suspect depression. But what did children have to be depressed about?
Depression in children is different from the blues and emotions that children experience as they grow. Sometimes, symptoms last and interfere with your child’s social activities, interests and schoolwork. In this situation, the child may just have depression. While depression is a serious illness, it also is a treatable one.
Can Children Suffer Depression?
Yes. Children do suffer depression,and it’s not the same as a child’s everyday moodiness. It is way deeper than that. For depression to go away, the patient must undergo treatment. Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that will go away without proper treatment. Sometimes, doctors don’t diagnose or treat depression because the symptoms are passed off as normal. They call them emotional and psychological changes that occur during growth. You should speak with your child’s pediatrician or contact a mental health professional. Do this if you have any concerns about changes in your child’s mood or behaviour.
How Common Is Depression In Children?
In this part of the world, we’re only just waking up to the realities of depression in adults. This is even because of the increase in the suicide rates all over the country. Studies say that one in 5 Nigerian adults are depressed. While there’s no statistic for depressed children in Nigeria, it is not hard to hazard a guess. The child of a depressed parent is not likely to be happy and cheerful. Even then, suicide is the third leading cause of death in Nigerian young people between the ages of 18 and 25.
What Causes Depression In Children?
As in adults, depression in children is caused by any combination of factors. Some of them are:
- Physical illness (such as diabetes or epilepsy)
- Stressful life events
- Environment (including family problems)
- Family history (others in the family have depression)
- Alcohol or drug use
How Can You Tell Your Child Is Depressed?
Every child with depression may present you with a unique set of symptoms. Signs and symptoms of depression in children include:
- Irritability, anger, or being “on edge”
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities as well as from friends and family
- Increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism
- Changes in appetite (either increased or decreased)
- Changes in sleep (sleeplessness or too much sleep)
- Crying or temper tantrums
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing
- Fatigue (tiredness) and low energy
- Physical complaints (such as stomach aches, headaches) that do not respond to treatment
- Reduced ability to function during activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Thoughts or talk of death or suicide
Not all depressed children will have all of these symptoms. In fact, most will have different symptoms at different times and in different settings. Some children may continue to function reasonably well in structured environments. But most kids with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities. They will experience a loss of interest in school and poor academic performance, or a change in appearance. Some kids will also experiment with drugs and alcohol just to feel better or cope. So if you have a teenager who has suddenly picked up these habits, dig a little deeper. Do some probing. There may be some depression under the surface.
Although relatively rare in youths under 12, young children do attempt suicide. They may do so impulsively when they are anxious, angry, or upset. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are more likely to actually succeed in killing themselves when attempting suicide. Children with a family history of violence, alcohol abuse, or physical or sexual abuse are at greater risk for suicide, as are those with symptoms of depression. Children are also at risk when they have access to firearms or medications at home.
What Are The Treatment Options?
Treatment options for children with depression are similar to those for adults, including psychotherapy (counseling) and medication. The role that family and the child’s environment play in the treatment process is different from that of adults. Your child’s doctor may suggest psychotherapy first, and consider antidepressant medicine as an additional option if there is no significant improvement. The best studies to date indicate that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most effective at treating depression.
You can however prevent depression in your children by creating a positive atmosphere at home. Always listen to your child and aside from listening, be always at alert to notice and understand the expression of your child. Praise your children for every right thing they do. Children with happy and secure childhoods are usually successful.
This article was first published on AfricaParent.com
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