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A Pediatric Perspective

Childhood Depression

Published August 15, 2014 9:00 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
When I heard that Robin Williams had passed away my heart broke.  When I learned that he had been suffering from severe depression and committed suicide my heart shattered. 

Depression - an often misunderstood disease.  A disease that is not easy for those who are suffering from it or for those who love someone suffering from it.  It's not just an adult disease either.  Did you know that as many as 1 in every 33 children suffer from depression?  Because of this it is important to be aware of the signs of depression in children and to make sure parents are also aware and know what to do if they think their child may be depressed.

The National Association of School Psychologists has an article that shares information on depression in children.  In their article they share that parents and educators should be aware of the following characteristics of a child suffering from depression:

  • A lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Being withdrawn and not appearing to be able to enjoy what is happening in their life
  • Inability to concentrate or focus on day to day activities
  • Performing poorly in school
  • Poor appetite - no interest in eating
  • Frequent sadness, crying,
  • A major change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Irritability and acting out

As I was doing research for this blog I couldn't help but think that many of the kids I work with exhibit several of these symptoms at any given time.  I'm guessing you're thinking the same thing, right?  What is important to keep in mind is that many children will show one or more of these symptoms as they grow but it becomes a concern when they are unable to move past them. Kids Health offers help understanding depression in children and shares that it is normal for children to be sad or depressed as they grow and go through their developmental stages.  It becomes a concern when they get stuck or their sadness/depression persists for more than a month or two and they begin to show a lack of interest in playing or doing anything at all day after day after day. 

The good news is that in the majority of cases depression can be treated successfully.  This is why it is very important to get a doctor or therapist involved to help.  Often with children the therapy will consist of both individual and family sessions.  When working with children Play Therapy is a common therapeutic approach that is used to treat depression.  Children learn through their play and they can express themselves better, often without realizing it, through their play. 

So what should a parent or educator do if they suspect a child is going through an extended period of depression?  Get help as soon as possible.  This may require starting with a referral from their pediatrician to a child psychiatrist, child psychologist or other mental health therapist who specializes in child mental health issues. Boston Children's Hospital has an excellent section on the web site that lists what to look for and where to turn if you suspect a child may be suffering from major depression.

It's hard to believe that our little ones could suffer from depression.  I mean after all, they're just kids... but even some children can fall into a place of such sadness they don't know how to get back out again.  If you suspect a child, or anyone for that matter, may be in such a place please try and get them help.  With the right help they can often find their way out and go on to live a happy, good life. 

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