Screening for Depression in Kids
Does Your Child Suffer From Depression?
Know the warning signs of childhood and teen depression and how to get your youngster the right treatment.
By Linda Parent
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Childhood and teen depression is real and can be painful for both the youngster and the entire family. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 33 children and 1 in 8 teenagers suffer from depression. There is evidence that even preschoolers can suffer from childhood depression.
According to Basheer Lotfi-Fard, MD, child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University and Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, "Unfortunately, we do view mental illnesses like depression and anxiety disorders as chronic conditions. We know that a child, after achieving recovery from a depressive episode, has a 20 to 60 percent chance of [another bout of depression] after two years and almost 70 percent after five years."
Initially, a parent may notice a change in the child's behavior and become worried. That's what happened to Lucy, of Montreal, whose daughter started showing signs of depression at age 10. "Initially, I noticed she would often stay in bed and then there was also the crying, which became more frequent," Lucy says. "Then one day she explained how she thought it was possible to end a life. Soon afterward, she ended up trying to cut her wrist."
Childhood and Teen Depression: Know the Risks and Signs
If you're wondering whether your child is at risk for depression, answering these questions can help:
Do you have a family history of depression? Depression tends to run in families, suggesting that there may be a.genetic basis to the disorder. Has something major happened to you or your child? Divorce, emotional or sexual abuse, loss of a family member or friend, a move to another area, or stress are all significant life events that may lead to symptoms of depression.
You should also be alert to the signs of depression in your child. These may include:
- Frequent and persistent depressed mood or irritability
- Loss of interest in daily or regular activities
- Significant change in weight or appetite
- Change in the sleep pattern, like suddenly sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Excessive guilt or feelings of worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying, suicide — or a suicide attempt
When behavior or symptoms interfere with your child's life, either at home, school, or with friends, your youngster may indeed be suffering from childhood depression or teen depression.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Childhood and Teen Depression
There are no simple tests to determine if a child or teen is suffering from depression. Usually, the doctor or mental health professional will conduct an interview with the youngster as well as with the parents or caregiver. The doctor may use a specific questionnaire or assessment scale to aid in diagnosis. Be aware that the doctor probably will want to talk to your child or teen out of your presence.
Counseling and medicine are effective methods used to treat depression in young people. Depending on their age, patients are encouraged to take part in their treatment decisions. After remission, Dr. Lotfi-Fard says, "it is important to remain under some form of treatment for monitoring of symptoms. Chronic conditions can be managed and as long as [patients] are under treatment for their symptoms, they can remain under remission and it shouldn’t prevent them from leading normal, healthy lives."
Childhood and Teen Depression: How You as a Parent Can Help
Being alert to the signs and symptoms of depression, and getting prompt treatment when needed, are first and foremost. Other things you can do to help your child include:
- Making sure your child or teen eats healthy foods and follows his treatments, either psychotherapy, medicine, or both.
- Encouraging your youngster to remain active; this is known to help with symptoms.
- Reminding your child of your support. It's important to tell your child on a regular basis that he can count on you.
- Praising your child or teen for his efforts; do not criticize his actions. It may be difficult for him or her to get up in the morning or do chores or homework during a bout of depression.
- Asking for help when you need it. If you feel that your child is not doing well, or needs additional support, contact his or her health care professional.
Support for the Whole Family
Dealing with childhood or teen depression is difficult. Remembers Lucy, "Not to get caught up in the situation, I made sure I went to work and kept busy with daily life activities as much as possible. I also had a lot of support from my spouse, and that was really helpful."
If you as a parent or caregiver need support of your own, don't hesitate to get help; your child’s pediatrician or your own health practitioner should be able to refer you to the right mental health specialist. You need to take care of yourself to be able to provide the best support to your child.
Video: Mayo Clinic Minute: 5 signs your teenager is battling depression
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