Childhood Depression And How To Identify It’s Signs
Have you noticed behavioural changes in your child lately? While it might nag you at the back of your mind, maybe you have chosen to brush it off as not important or just assumed it’s part of the normal growing-up process. Well, stop, observe and think again. If these changes are persistent, becoming more and more pronounced, and increasingly disruptive, then you ought to take immediate action. Ignoring these warning signs can prove fatal and you as parents have to take responsibility to avert disastrous consequences for your child and your family. Granted, it is not easy to say your child is “depressed” and it is not something any parent wants to acknowledge. This is because depression, as with other mental health issues, has a sort of “stigma” attached to it by society. Unfortunately, instead of it being treated in the same way as physical diseases are, any issue related to the mind is considered “shameful” or “embarrassing” and even educated people do not wish to acknowledge it. More so when it involves our child, we come up with umpteen reasons as to why our child cannot be the one to experience this undesirable condition. We cannot associate our sweet little kid with anything other than being just that. But we need to realize that just as much as adults face periods of low and are prone to depression, children are vulnerable and their coping mechanisms are still not developed to the extent that they can deal with it by themselves.
Let’s first understand the term depression.
Depression is fundamentally a “mood disorder”, a mental health condition that affects one’s emotional well-being over a long period of time. This state is accompanied by extreme bouts of sadness, irritability, and hopelessness. It is important to make a distinction between grief or sadness and depression as very often the symptoms are intertwined. And this applies to both adults and children.
To grieve is a normal process. The loss of a loved one or something near and dear to us – like loss of financial security, a stressful life event, illness, etc drives us to a state of deep sadness, and possibly during that period, we tend to question Why me? What have I done to deserve this? It is also normal to experience a desire to join a loved one whom we have lost in our yearning to be close to them, as we cannot imagine surviving with that deep sense of loss. Even though grief and depression can co-exist with similar features, there is an identifiable difference between the two. With grief, self-esteem is maintained, whereas in major depression, feelings of self-loathing, and unworthiness overtake sensibilities and at its worst, thoughts are concentrated on ending one’s life due to the inability to cope with the pain. This is a situation we do not want to be in and this is a situation we do not want our children to be in.
Let’s face it, the pressures of today’s society are enormous. The pressure starts building up from as early as childhood, to our teens, adolescence, and adulthood. It is not restricted to any one phase as we carry them through school, college, workplace, and personal and professional relationships. Evidence suggests that there is a continuity between childhood depression and depression faced in adulthood.
When it comes to our children, understanding the trigger points is the key to helping them overcome and deal with issues so that they do not carry this baggage with them into the future. In their world, every issue they encounter is big and poses an enormous challenge, while as adults we might think it trivial or simply dismiss it, believing that they are just making a big deal out of
WARNING SIGNS OF CHILDHOOD DEPRESSION
What are the signs that you as a parent should not take for granted? Here we will talk about them.
We often relate overconsumption of food or binge eating as an indicator of depression. While this is more so associated with adults, research has shown that as far as children or adolescents are concerned, physiological and metabolic processes strongly promote weight gain and increased appetite during this developmental phase. A study published by the American Psychological Association in The Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science under the title “Are increased weight and appetite useful indicators of depression in children and adolescents?” suggests that the correlation between increased appetite or weight gain among children/adolescents and depression is weak, although weight loss and appetite decrease bears a strong association with depression. So, if your child refuses to eat – not just because it does not appeal to his or her taste buds and this behaviour is noticed over a prolonged period of time, that’s a warning that needs to be adhered to.
2.Changes in sleep patterns:
It is a well-known fact that sleep is paramount for mental and physical development in children. It is needed to restore and recharge their bodies and is essential for them to retain what they have learned throughout the day. Depression can adversely affect sleep patterns in children. There are two ends to the spectrum here. On the one side there is sleeplessness and on the other excessive indulgence in sleep. When we speak of excessive sleep in this connection, it does not refer to the need to recuperate after a late night, catching up on much-needed rest after studying, or just take advantage of the lovely weather over the weekend. It is when sleep is used as a means of escape when despite having the stipulated 8 to 10 hours of sleep consistently, your child still complains of feeling fatigued, then it may be a reason for concern.
3.Issues at School and social behaviour changes:
You may begin to notice problems at school arising out of difficulties with concentration. A decline in grades, disruptive or disorderly conduct like becoming abusive and physically violent, hyperactivity, running away from home, neglecting personal appearance or grooming, and non-participation in activities that were otherwise enjoyed are all symptoms to take note of. Very often refusal to go to school, accompanied by talks of feeling unwell or having “stomach pain” on a frequent basis should not be ignored. On the other hand, some children are not so vocal and suffer in silence; a normally bubbly and interactive child would become unusually withdrawn – retreating from their friends, social circle, or family, and often this symptom may go unnoticed because it is not being manifested “loudly”. So, take note, this is your child “screaming” for help silently.
Heart-breaking as it is, there has been a steady increase in the number of children with suicidal tendencies. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “death by suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds, and many more children attempt but do not complete suicide” UNICEF reports that “Every year, almost 46,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19 end their own lives – about 1 every 11 minutes”. Suicidal thoughts and suicide itself are how children respond to depression and anxiety in worst-case scenarios. Watch out when your child is preoccupied with death in conversations, depicting it through writing or drawings, researching ways to die, talking about their own death, and engaging in risk-taking behaviors. Sentences like “No one will miss me when I am gone”, “Nobody cares about me”, “I wish I was dead”, and “I won’t bother you when I am gone” talks on those lines should never be ignored. Stop and pay attention. So, if your child is exhibiting any of these signs, do not take it lightly. Get the required help immediately. Any delay will only compound the underlying issues and can be detrimental to the well-being of your child.