Signs of childhood depression

Although depression is generally considered to be an adult condition, it can affect children as well. This can lead to behavioral problems that can be hard for parents to deal with if they don’t know what is causing the behaviour. However, by watching out for warning signs, parents can help a child overcome her worries and feelings of despair.

Times of India reports that behavioral problems in children and the reasons leading to them were among the key issues discussed at the recently concluded annual conference of Vidarbha Psychiatric Association (VPA). At the conference, Dr Henal Shah from Nair Hospital, Mumbai, said “It is generally believed that children can’t be depressed. However, we are seeing children as young as six suffering from depression. These problems get manifested in various forms ranging from academic performance to suicidal thoughts.” She added that the majority of kids who suffer from depression are influenced by adults around them who are also depressed, especially their mothers, and that early identification of the issues by parents and teachers can help tremendously.

According to these experts, children in today’s world are overburdened with media and technology, exposing their young minds to more than they may be equipped to deal with. In addition to that, fierce competition in school to achieve academic excellence as well as peer pressure to fit in a generation of fast technology and profuse social interaction can leave children feeling overwhelmed.

Adding to the issue are societal changes in family structure. Dr Alka Subramanyam, also from Nair Hospital, said, “Lifestyle and family equations have changed dramatically. From joint families, we reached nuclear families and now we have families where both parents are working.”

Some signs of depression, according to these psychiatrists and the Web site of the National Health Service in Great Britain, are:

  • Obviously first and foremost, the child may appear unhappy and in a low mood. Crying or irritibality that doesn’t seem associated with a specific cause may also indicate a more persistent issue.
  • Another is a reaction to a significant life event, such as death of a family member or a tragedy, that appear extreme or linger a long time.
  • Loss of interest in activities or things that they previously enjoyed, and an inability to function normally at school or at home.
  • Decrease in social activity and interaction with friends or peers.
  • Insomnia or too little sleep.

Dr. Subramanyam also stressed that lack of sleep could also cause emotional distress in children. “It is more common among Asian countries where children sleep with their parents rather than being made to form a habit of sleeping on their own. Episodes of waking up during nights, bedtime resistance and associated problems like mood swings, irritability, and emotional distress in such children start affecting parents and their marital situation, too,” he said.

If you feel your child is displaying the signs of being depressed, best way to address it is to start by talking to them, advises Dr Navina Evans, a psychiatrist in London. “Try to find out what’s troubling them. And whatever’s causing the problem, don’t trivialise it. It may not be a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.”

If you feel that you need additional help, reach out to a pediatrician, a counselor or a child mental health specialist. It has been shown that cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of therapy where patients solve their problems by talking about them, can teaching him or her deal with emotional problems and can stop the issue from escalating.

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