Understanding Child Depression, Therapy and Treatment

Major depressive disorder among children is a disorder that could affect a child’s daily functioning. “Depression and its worst risk, suicide, are serious and common problems in children and teens. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in U.S. teens, resulting in more deaths than from cancer or any other disease or illness.”, according to Michael Shapiro, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. It’s a mental illness that can affect the way the child thinks about things, the way he thinks about himself, his moods, and even affect his daily activities such as sleeping and eating patterns. To understand the underpinnings of child depression, this article will tackle the cause of the disorder and possible treatment modalities such as undergoing therapy.

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Causative Factors

There are several specific causes of childhood depression. Contributors can be biological, psychological and environmental.

Biologically, depression can be associated with some deficiencies in the brain. Biological differences as in gender can also be a factor or a child with a depressed parent is more likely to develop the disorder as well.

Psychological contributors may be linked to children with learning and behavior problems causing them to have difficulties participating in social activities which can eventually lead to depression. Negative thoughts about body image and self-worth can also result in feelings of helplessness and frustration.

Depression may be a reaction to life stresses like frequent exposure to bullying, unresolved family conflicts, and experiencing traumatic events such as violence, abuse, and neglect. “Depression is often a reaction to something that’s missing. The reasons for this could range from a child’s parents divorcing, family feuds or neglect,” according to Michael Schulte-Markwort, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Watch Out For These Signs

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Symptoms of depression are often mild on the first stage, or it can also occur suddenly over time. Some parents may not realize that these can be signs of depression. “Depression in childhood/adolescence can manifest somewhat differently than it does in adults.” according to Richa Bhatia, MD, a Child, Adolescent and Adult psychiatrist. Thus, it is essential to pay close attention to the changes in the attitude and behavior of the child. Major signs of depression include prolonged sadness that lasts for days, weeks and even years. A severely depressed person finds it hard to do daily activities such as getting up from bed and bathing, lack of interest to go to school and play with friends, and may complain of illness. Other critical manifestations include:

  • Changes in sleeping pattern, like an inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • Feeling of irritability, defiant and destructive always
  • Temper tantrums
  • Changes in eating habits that lead to significant weight loss/gain
  • Body movements that seem slow or restless
  • Lack of interest in friends
  • Having low self-esteem, highly sensitive to criticism
  • What To Do When You Suspect That Your Child Is Depressed

Recommended Treatment

The only right approach is to seek a mental health assessment and care as soon as your child has symptoms of depression. Professional counseling for your child and your family is deemed necessary. There should be a comfortable relationship between the child and the care providers for the treatment of depression.

The sooner the treatment process is started, the more positive and good prognosis is achieved. Delaying treatment would result in a prolonged and complicated recovery, plus the possibility of developing co-morbidities.

Medications are prescribed to the child in the form of antidepressants and mood stabilizers. Medication adherence is a critical part of treatment wherein medicines should be taken accordingly to attain the therapeutic effect of the drug.

Psychotherapy or otherwise known as talk therapy focuses on exploring the problem and helping the child deal with depression. Specifically, for child depression, Interpersonal Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioral therapy are commonly used. The treatment is goal-oriented, generally to alleviate symptoms of depression. It can last for weeks and months depending on the severity of the child’s depression and the response of the child to the treatment process. If a child shows warning signs of suicide or when he is too depressed that he manifests hallucinations or delusions, more intensive psychotherapy is warranted.

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment, on the other hand, is an approach that helps a child reduce the effects of depression. It focuses on the relation of how a child thinks, feels and behaves and how they each affect one another. The therapist will help the child identify negative thoughts then teaches him how to replace them with positive, healthier ones. The change of attitude will lead the child to a shift in behavior, thereby easing depression.

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Final Words

A supportive family and a healthy lifestyle can do a lot for a child to recover from depression. Expressing love and showing full support and understanding is very important for a child to cope with depression. Listening and promoting a positive environment is what a child needs most. Parent counseling is also encouraged in conjunction with the child’s therapy sessions. It allows the parents to learn and provide the best support for their child going through depression.