DEPRESSION is a mental illness marked by persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, loss of interest in activities, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and sometimes, thoughts of suicide. It affects the way one feels, thinks, and acts.

Often, people who are depressed also experience changes in their sleeping and eating habits and have trouble concentrating. A diagnosis of depression is made when symptoms persist for two weeks or longer and interfere with a person’s ability to function. It can also be seen as a state of low mood and aversion to activity.

As unrecognized as depression is among the adult population, it is even more so among school age children and adolescents.  Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that will go away without proper treatment. Depression is often not diagnosed and treated because the symptoms are passed off as normal emotional and psychological changes that occur during growth. But it is good to know that while depression is a serious illness, it is also a treatable one.

Speaking extensively on whether children and adolescents also suffer from depression, Ikechukwu Nwaneli, a pediatrician with a private hospital at Onitsha, said, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Children and adolescents sure suffer from both depression and associated symptoms.

In most cases, depression as a form of illness starts to manifest from very young ages, and in rare cases, depression creeps in adulthood. Depression is one of the most common global mental health problems. In children and adolescents, it is one of the under-recognized health problems due to the children’s inability to disclose their feelings and the adolescents’ reluctance to seek psychiatric help.

In the last century, the medical community did not accept the existence of depressive disorders in children. It was believed that children are lacking the mature psychological and cognitive structures needed to experience symptoms related to depressive disorders. However, a growing body of evidence has proved that children, not only experience the whole spectrum of mood disorders (depression), but also suffer from significant morbidity and mortality associated with them”.

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“It can be hard for parents and other adults to know when a child is depressed. An irritable or angry mood might seem like a bad attitude or disrespect. Low energy and lack of interest might look like not trying. Parents (and kids and teens themselves) may not realize that these can be signs of depression.

Depression among children and adolescents is an uncommon and frequently unrecognized issue in pediatrics.  It is normal for kids to feel sad, down, or irritated, or to be in bad moods from time to time. But when negative feelings, thoughts and other signs linger for a long time and limit a child’s ability to function normally, depression might be considered”.

“Many factors increase the risk of developing or triggering depression in children, including: Having issues that negatively impact self-esteem, such as obesity, peer problems, long-term bullying or academic problems, being a victim or a witness of some kind of violence, such as physical or sexual abuse. Depression doesn’t just affect the mind; it also affects the body.

Some of the physical effects include erratic sleep habits, loss of appetite or increased appetite with a typical depression, constant fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, and back pain. Other symptoms include: irritability, anger, or being “on edge”, persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, as well as from friends and family, increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism, changes in sleep (sleeplessness or too much sleep), crying or temper tantrums, difficulty concentrating and focusing, fatigue (tiredness) and low energy, physical complaints such as stomach aches, headaches that do not respond to treatment, reduced ability to function during activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests, feelings of worthlessness, or guilt, and in extreme cases, thoughts of self-harm or talk of death or suicide”.

“Not all depressed children will have all of these symptoms. In fact, most will have different symptoms at different times and in different settings. Although some children may continue to function reasonably well in structured environments, most kids with significant depression will suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in school and poor academic performance.

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Treatment options for kids with childhood depression are similar to those for adults. They include psychotherapy (counseling) and medication. But the first step is to see a doctor, the doctor may suggest psychotherapy first and consider antidepressant medicine as an additional option if symptoms are severe or if there is no significant improvement with psychotherapy alone.

The best studies till date indicate that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the most effective method to successfully treat childhood depression. Although, some doctors say that antidepressant medications if not well managed, may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and thought of self harm in children and adolescents with depression and other psychiatric disorders”.

Mr Chibueze Chielo, a psychologist, also said that Childhood depression is different from the everyday “blues” that most kids get as they develop. The fact that a child feels sad, lonely, or irritable does not mean he or she has childhood depression. Childhood depression is persistent sadness.

When it occurs, the child feels alone, hopeless, helpless, and worthless. When this type of sadness is unending, it disrupts every part of the child’s life. It interferes with the child’s daily activities, schoolwork, and peer relationships. It can also affect the life of each family member.

Childhood depression can be assessed, diagnosed, and effectively treated with medications or psychotherapy. Left untreated, childhood depression is a serious depressive disorder that can lead to suicide. The causes of childhood depression are unknown. It could be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, life events, family history, environment, genetic vulnerability, and biochemical disturbance.

“Schedule a visit to your child’s pediatrician. The doctor will probably do a complete physical exam. A full exam lets the doctor check your child for other health conditions that could cause depression-like symptoms. If the doctor thinks your child has depression, or a similar mood disorder, he or she may refer you to a specialist for evaluation and treatment. Therapists treat depression and other mood disorders with talk therapy, sometimes medicine, or both. Parent counseling is often part of the treatment, too. It focuses on ways parents can best support and respond to a kid or teen going through depression.

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Treatment by a therapist is important. But parents play an important role, too. At home, these simple but powerful steps can help children deal with childhood depression; parents should talk with their children about depression and moods. Kids might ignore, hide, deny how they feel or might not even realize that they’re depressed. Older kids and teens may act like they don’t want help, but talk with them anyway, listen, offer your support and show love. Second step is making sure that our kids eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep and get daily physical activities; these have positive effects on moods.

The third step is parents making sure that they spend quality time with their children. Doing things together (things that both of you like) such as going for walk, playing games, watching funny movies. Gently encouraging positive emotions and moods such as enjoyment, relaxation, amusement, and pleasure can slowly help to overcome the depressed moods that are part of depression.

The final step is for parents to show patience and kindness to the depressed child. When depression causes kids and teens to act grumpy and irritable, it’s easy for parents to become frustrated or angry. Remind yourself that these moods are part of depression, not intentional disrespect. Avoid arguing back or using harsh words. Try to stay patient and understanding. A positive relationship with parents helps strengthen a child’s resilience against depression”.

 

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