Childhood depression needs to be recognized

Most would agree that our childhood and adolescent years should be relatively carefree, a time filled with opportunities to grow, learn and have fun.

Sadly, there are many children and teens whose days are clouded by depression and who simply cannot enjoy their youthful experiences because of their illness.

Last week I was happy to announce recent research showing that the benefits of antidepressant medication in depressed young people outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, most depressed youth don't get the help they need because their sickness is not diagnosed.

Experts estimate that only 20 to 30 percent of all cases of childhood or teen depression are detected. Of the cases that are diagnosed, only half are appropriately treated, which leaves many children facing a debilitating illness alone.

Many times, parents mistake symptoms of depression for regular adolescent behaviour. Common symptoms in young people can include fatigue, apathy, disturbed sleep or loss of interest in going to school or participating in activities. While all of these can be easily dismissed as a normal part of the teenage 'phase', they can often signal the beginning of depression.

Parents should watch for changes in a teenager's behaviour such as increased irritability; appetite or sleep changes; or self-destructive activities such as high risk behaviour or a lack of self-care. Difficulty coping with school or getting along with others are also important warning signs.

Since mood disorders do have a genetic component, recognizing whether there is a family history can also be very helpful in identifying symptoms in a child.

Recognizing and treating depression early is critical as this is a life-long condition that tends to worsen over time and can become increasingly resistant to treatment.

Also, the adolescent years are when we develop very important life skills and this development can be delayed if untreated depression leads to missed school, self-destructive behaviour or drug and alcohol abuse.

If you think your child might be depressed, speak to them about it. Be open and discuss your concerns with your child. Close and open relationships are very important so your child feels comfortable talking with you about his or her feelings.

If you have also suffered from depression and had treatment, it might be helpful to share your own experience with your children. Hopefully, by doing so, you can shorten the length of time between onset of symptoms and appropriate treatment.

Once you have talked with your child, bring your concerns to your doctor and seek a referral to an appropriate mental health professional if necessary.

Effective treatment usually involves medication and cognitive behaviour therapy to help improve relationships and change negative patterns of thinking.

Often, once a teenager realizes what is causing their feelings, they are very interested in getting appropriate treatment so that they can get back to enjoying all the experiences that youth is supposed to offer.


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