Sometimes, a depressed child goes unrecognized because he/she is normally quiet, shy and introverted. Other people may comment that “Joe/Mary seems depressed.” Parents dismiss this as just a natural part of the personality of the child. This is not to say that all shy, quiet children are depressed. How can parents know whether their child is actually depressed?
Everybody has periods of depression. It may last a day or two, a couple of weeks or even a few months, but there is always an understandable reason for normal depression.
Major life changes, such as parents divorcing, a parent getting married again, moving too far away from friends to continue a close relationship, death of someone loved, sexual abuse and the battering of one parent by the other are some common reasons that children become depressed.
Each child is different. What causes depression in some children, will not affect others to that degree. Depression tends to run in families. If a parent is prone to depression, a major life event will likely trigger depression in the child. The personality of the child, family support, number of close friends and general health of the child all play a role in how he handles major life changes.
If a child is a perfectionist, a few less-than-perfect grades may throw her into depression. A child who is too active in extra-curricula activities may begin to suffer health-wise due to lack of sleep and rest or an unhealthy diet. When he is no longer able to handle all these activities and his grades begin to suffer, he may become depressed.
Something as seemingly innocent as the death of a pet, a fight with a best friend or the break-up with a school crush can trigger depression in those who have a propensity. Anyone dealing with chronic pain has a tendency to become depressed. There is no way to protect or shield a child from every known and unknown trigger of depression.
How do you know when your child is depressed? A child who loses interest in things he normally enjoys, who withdraws from family activities and doesn’t see the humor in life the way he once did, is probably depressed about something. Eating habits will change and your child may stop caring about her appearance. He may refuse to take phone calls and begin to sleep quite a bit more than usual.
Any pronounced change in a child that lasts longer than a couple of weeks should be investigated. The longer depression goes unchecked, the more difficult and time-consuming it will be to treat. Depression can spiral out of control and reach the stage of becoming suicidal.
Depression is an illness that must be treated the same way that a diabetic must receive treatment to prevent the illness from worsening or leading to death. There is no shame in being depressed. Clinical depression can often be treated with medication and counseling.
Natural treatments include taking serotonin supplements, getting more sunshine, eating fresh foods instead of processed foods, and adding folate to the diet. “Researchers at Harvard University have found that depressed people with low folate levels don’t respond as well to antidepressants, and taking folic acid in supplement form can improve the effectiveness of antidepressants. For more information, read Low Folate and Vitamin B12 Linked to Depression.” This quote is taken from alternative medicine.
Adding omega-3 fatty acid supplements and magnesium may help, as some people with depression are deficient. Vitamin B6 is needed to help produce the necessary serotonin. Make sure there is a deficiency before adding supplements.
Telling someone who is depressed ‘to just get over it’ will not work any better than telling someone who has cancer to ‘just cure yourself’. Someone with an understandable reason for depression will generally get past it as time moves on. If, after 12 months, the person has made no progress, make an appointment with his pediatrician. Make an appointment sooner if his condition worsens at any time.
When there is no clear reason for a child to become depressed, begin by gently asking questions about her sudden change in attitude. If a child refuses to speak with a parent, find someone she trusts to intercede. Depression can rob a child of precious childhood memories by keeping him from making any. It can lead to a lifetime disability, failed marriages and poor job performance.
Why is your child depressed? Has something recently happened that has caused your child grief, sorrow, sadness, embarrassment, humiliation, anger or disappointment? Some life events may not affect adults in the same way they do children. Ask your child why he is suddenly sad, angry or withdrawn. Who knows, you may actually get an answer.
Love your child, don’t smother him. Make sure she knows she has your support, but don’t enable her depression by making excuses to others on her behalf. Don’t freak out every time your child is moody. This is just a normal child being normal.