Understanding Childhood Depression

Clinical depression is a mental health problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects, how you think, feel, and behave and can cause emotional, functional and physical problems.

Depression however is different from the normal “blues” and everyday emotions that an individual may feel but it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has significant depression. When the sadness becomes persistent, or interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork, or family life, It may be an indication that he or she has a depressive illness. It may however, also be treatable.

Depression is quite common at every age and affects more than 16 percent of children in countries like the United States at some time in their lives and is also thought to be increasing between children and adolescents. There is no concrete data to describe what the case is in Africa. Depression has a tendency to occur at a rate of 2% prior to teenage years and approximately 5-8% when adolescents and younger are considered.

Although depression may occur at any time, symptoms may be slightly different between children and teens, and adults. Issues such as peer pressure, academic expectations and changing bodies can bring about a lot of ups and downs for teens and children but for some, the lows are more than temporary feelings but rather a symptom of depression.

Childhood depression (or depression in general) isn’t a weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower – it can require long term treatment and have serious consequences, but symptoms can be relived with medication and psychological counselling.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of depression is not known but a variety of issues may be involved which includes:

  • Biological chemistry – When neurotransmitters are blocked or impair the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems change which can lead to depression.
  • Childhood trauma – Traumatic events such as physical or emotional abuse, or the loss of a parent may cause changes in the brain that make a child ore susceptible to depression. Read more
  • Learned patterns of negative thinking – Childhood depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life challenges.
  • Hormones – Changes to the bodies balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression.

Symptoms To Look Out For

Childhood depression signs and symptoms include a change in the previous attitude and behavior of the child. These changes can cause significant distress and problems at school or at home as well as other areas of life. Some of the symptoms of depression are listed below:

Emotional Changes

  • Feeling helpless or empty.
  • Irritable or annoyed mood.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Vocal outburst or excessive crying.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities.
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure and the need for excessive reassurance.

Behavioral Changes

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Agitation or restlessness.
  • Tiredness and loss of energy.
  • Making a suicide plan or suicide attempt.
  • Self harm.

Diagnosis And Treatment

When teen depression is suspected, your child’s doctor will typically do these exams and tests.

  • Physical exam : The doctor may do a physical exam and ask in-depth questions about your child’s health to determine what may be causing depression. In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem.
  • Lab tests : For example, your teen’s doctor may do a blood test called a complete blood count or test your child’s thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly.
  • Psychological evaluation : This evaluation includes a discussion with your child about thoughts, feelings and behavior, and may include a questionnaire. These will help pinpoint a diagnosis and check for related complications.

Although it is possible to get rid of it, it is not uncommon for it to persist throughout a lifetime or to come and go on occasion. Depression is usually treated through medications and psychotherapy. The types of medications prescribed are usually antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs to help cope with the emotional distress and depression as a whole. However, medications are more often than not used in tandem with psychotherapy.

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is focused on changing thought patterns and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most often used and considered the benchmark treatment for individuals living with depression. It has been found to produce very positive results and in some cases it is enough to treat a mood disorder on its own.

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