Depression In Children

Depression can be confused with other disorders.A useful list of signs of depression to look for in children and adolescents.

Children are supposed to be well-taken care of by adults. They are supposed to have their basic needs met. These include the need for food, warmth, physical comfort, adequate clothing and a healthy environment. In addition to these basic, mostly physical needs, they also have a right to have their emotional needs, such as comfort, closeness to other human beings, and love met. Adults are supposed to provide these emotional needs or help the young person to obtain them. With all these needs provided for them children should have no reason to be concerned, anxious or worried. However, that is not necessarily so. These needs are not always met one hundred percent for each child, so that there is some concern, anxiety and worry in children. And this can in fact lead to children feeling depressed. However, lack of enough food or clothes or not feeling loved by a parent are not the only causes of depression. In fact these may not even be the real causes of depression in children.

Depression is not just feeling sad for a while, or being "down-in-the-dumps" for a few days. Depression is long-lasting. It usually persists for more than a month at a time and is life-threatening. It has been easy to miss the signs of depression in children because it is usually associated with other behaviours such as aggressiveness, irritability, delinquency, hyperactivity. These behaviours can be symptomatic of or associated with several other disorders in children including learning disabilities, alcohol and substance abuse, and therefore it is easy to misdiagnose a child suffering from depression. In addition, particularly in older children, signs of depression could get covered up or confused with the emotional turmoil that is thought to be characteristic of adolescence. Therefore, moodiness or withdrawal in an adolescent could be dismissed as merely being a result of hormonal changes at that time.

It has been found from neuroscientific studies that depression actually results from a malfunction in the brain. Some of the neural circuits fail to function properly and result in neurotransmitter chemicals being out of balance. Depression therefore is not just someone feeling sad because something traumatic has occurred in his life or he is under stress. It is not unlikely that a child may suffer from symptoms of depression and not be able to identify a factor in his life as the cause. Post-partum depression (caused by chemical changes in the body after pregnancy) helps to understands this.

What to look for:

· Persistent sad mood. This can be observed in young people by things such as wearing black clothes, writing sad stories or poetry, listening to music with morbid themes and words, frequently expressing feelings of worthlessness.

· Decreasing interest in activities that once were important or enjoyable. This is accompanied by withdrawal especially from friends. Not wanting to hang out or play with friends any more, complaining of being bored all the time.

· Change of sleep patterns. There may be difficulty sleeping- he may be up late at night watching TV, or having difficulty getting up for school in the mornings, falling asleep often during the day.

· Lack of motivation and low mental and physical energy level. Seems very lethargic, sits around doing nothing often, misses classes or football practice, academic performance drops, has difficulty concentrating.

· Frequent complaints of physical pains such as headaches, stomachaches, tiredness.

· Significant change in appetite or eating habits, obvious weight loss or gain.

· Frequent emotional outbursts- angry talk, raging, complaining, crying, etc.

· Reckless behaviour, (especially in adolescents), looks as if they don't care what happens to them, taking foolish risks, daredevil stunts.

· Difficulty with relationships- arguing and fighting with siblings, not making friends easily, or not getting along well with peers, rejecting and blaming parents.

When young people talk regularly about harming themselves or even suicide it is to be taken seriously. If there has been a family history of depression or a traumatic event taking place in the child's life, attention should be paid to the child to stem the possibility of depression occurring. Depression can be managed and cured with psychotherapy and medication. Don't try to "cheer" the child up, but seek professional help instead if more than two or three of the above signs persist for a while. As with all other emotional and physical difficulties in children, they need the support and help of everyone around them- parents, family, teachers, and friends.

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