Depression: What Parents Need to Know

Mental health issues affect 1 out of 5 children and teens in the United States.  Depression is among one of the most common mental health issues for youth, affecting anywhere from 10% to 15% of kids.

So why is this important?  This is important because depression that goes untreated can be linked to poor outcomes such as suicide, poor school performance, missing important developmental markers, and increased likelihood for mental health issues in adulthood.  In adulthood, complications from mental health issues are linked to homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse disorders, and the inability to form meaningful relationships.

Many parents struggle with the idea that their child might be suffering, and they may miss key warning signs of possible trouble.   Typical adolescent development can mask many of the key warning signs of mental health issues. Also, no parent wants to think that their child may be experiencing a mental health issue.  Biological and environmental causes are linked with depression.   Many environmental triggers for depression may be linked to children’s experiences outside of the home, such as bullying at school and social conflict with peers.

Warning Signs of Depression in Children and Adolescents

The following are signs and symptoms that parents and caregivers should look out for:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

When looking at these warning signs, understand that some of them can look like typical development, especially in teens.  Parents should look at the degree of change and how it is affecting the child’s functioning.  For example, in adolescence it is normal to start to withdrawal from family and start to spend more time with peers, but if your child is withdrawing from family and peers it could be a possible sign of trouble.

Getting Help for Your Child

Reaching out for support can be the hardest step, but also the most important for preventing poor outcomes.  It is important to take the step of calling a professional, such as a therapist or a pediatrician to set up an appointment.  Know that your child may be resistant to getting help, this is common for adults and children experiencing depression.

Treatment for Depression in Children and Adolescents

So what can be done to treat a child’s depression?  Understand that there is no quick or easy fix.  The doctor can’t give your child a magical pill and make depression go away.  Also know that most children will not require treatment for depression for the rest of their lives.  With early intervention, children can bounce back from mental health struggles and go back to their normal happy healthy selves.

Treatment for depression can present in a variety of ways, but the most effective treatments includes the development of healthy practices and coping skills, addressing any environmental triggers, and short term therapy.  These interventions may include medication, but not always.  Something parents should understand is that for a child with depression, sometimes doing as much as getting ready for the day can be emotionally exhausting.  Parents may need to encourage and positively reinforce a child’s participation in treatment, especially in the beginning.

Supporting Depression Symptoms at Home

There are a variety of things children and teens can do in conjunction with professional help that can improve depression symptoms.

  • Make sure your child does not isolate themselves. Make sure that they stay active in social activities.  Joining an after school activity could be a great idea!
  • If your child uses social media, they should spend less time on it.
  • Make sure your child is staying physically active. Exercise is a natural antidepressant.  They can go for a hike, walk, ride a bike, run, join a gym, or join a sports team at school.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Adolescents should be getting 9- 9 ½ hours of sleep each night.  Children 6-13 require at least 9- 11 hours of sleep each night.
  • Make sure your child stays away from drugs and alcohol. Using drugs and alcohol will exacerbate symptoms of depression.

If parents are ever concerned that their child’s symptoms are getting worse or changing, it is important that this is shared with their child’s support team.  Paying close attention to your child’s symptoms and responding appropriately is important.  Suicide is a serious complication of depression.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people and the number one preventable death in adolescents.

For more information on how you can get a child or family help, contact us today through our website or call us at 1-877-458-7022 to be directed to your local office.

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