Depression is no laughing matter, especially when it hits the kiddos. Let’s learn more about this condition and how you can go about helping your child.
It is true that all children feel blue, lousy and sad from time to time but what happens when that once in a while mood turns into something daily? A few years ago, a survey on Suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents – prevalence and risk factors done by the doctors of the Institute of Mental Health reported that 22 per cent of the 600 kids (aged six to 12) surveyed indicated having suicidal tendencies.
For children and adolescents, the depressive state makes them feel like astronauts whose tethers have been cut, and they are drifting in space,” says Dr Douglas Riley, author of the best-selling book The Depressed Child: A Parent’s Guide For Rescuing Kids.
What is child depression?
Depression is a serious mental health issue that can affect even very young children. Depressed children are generally lacking in energy and enthusiasm. They often become withdrawn and are unable to concentrate or to enjoy life. If they are in school, they usually perform poorly. If they are old enough to express and share their thoughts and feelings, they may even refer to themselves as stupid and ugly, friendless, unloved and unlovable, worthless, or even hopeless.
What are some signs parents should look out for?
According to Tulsi Rani, a freelance family counsellor, the symptoms vary from child-to-child and are dependent on the individual’s situation. Concurringly, Dr Navina Evans, a consultant psychiatrist states that the obvious signs to look out for include a low mood and unhappiness, with tearfulness or irritability that may not be related to anything specific. “Also watch out for reactions when something sad happens. For instance, when someone dies it’s normal for everyone in the family to feel distressed. But if you feel your child’s reaction is too extreme or has gone on for too long, that could also be a sign of depression,” she adds.
What causes depression in children?
“Family instability, bullying and depressed parents are usually the main triggers for child depression,” says Tulsi. In her almost 10 year long career as a counsellor, she shares that while depression has no single cause, they are usually caused by the mentioned causes.
During our interview with Tulsi, she shared an incident where a parent’s depression was passed onto the child. “My client was at her lowest after finding out that her husband had cheated on her. That caused my client to drown into serious depression where she used to sit alone in the dark for hours and sob away. For a primary two child to see that is not healthy at all.”
Tulsi added that her client’s daughter slowly started to quieten down and preferred to be alone and was always deep in thought. As the mum was too busy to notice her daughter going down the same path as her, thankfully her grandparents were there to notice her strange behaviour and intervened immediately by talking her out of it and making sure that she always shared how she was feeling – be it happy or sad.
What are parents to do?
- Address it! “The first thing you should do is talk to them,” says Dr Evans. “Try to find out what’s troubling them. And whatever’s causing the problem, don’t trivialise it. It may not be a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child,” she advises.
- Never ignore the symptoms. Early intervention by a mental health professional is crucial to prevent deterioration in the child’s functioning and recurring depressive episodes. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so give your child that check-up they deserve.
- Listen without lecturing. Tulsi shares that as parents, we have the tendency to jump the gun and draw conclusions very quickly but try not to always do that. On days when your child seems glum, try cheering them up with their favourite TV show, more play time or an extended hour at the playground. If all these don’t suffice, try other ways to communicate with your child so that they can openly pour their heart out to you.
- Make your child understand. In his book, Dr Riley further adds that, “in order to rescue your child from depression, you have to help him understand that the way he is thinking is actually causing him to be depressed. In order to help him escape depression, we will have to show him, sometimes quite dramatically, that his thinking is faulty.”
No one deserves to feel lonely and hopeless. Help is always available, no matter what the situation.