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Childhood Depression: Helping Children Overcome the Concerns

Category : Health

Life is not without challenges and ills. It, in fact, throws its weight on us pushing many to let-off limits. These limits define the overall activism of our innate existence. From infants to adults, the weight exists. Moreover, everyone born will at some point in life, if not most, experience these state of life’s pressure.

Depression is considered the silent killer of the contemporary age. Cutting across boards, irrespective of age, tribe, culture, status, and or position. According to WHO’s report, more than 3 million people of all ages suffer from depression. This is indeed a mammoth figure given the fact that most people pay less attention to its effects and ignorantly consider depression to be a part of life.

No doubt, children sometimes get withdrawn from their friends, have difficulty concentrating, show less or no appetite, develop a feeling of worthlessness, are easily fatigued and symptomize continuous feelings of sadness. It is normal for children to exhibit such traits as they reach some developmental milestones. However, when these traits become persistent, reoccurring, and prolonged, it becomes abnormal. Simply said, ‘Depression’ has set in.

Depression is the state of high belief of self-incompetence and rejection that affects a person’s overall response and reaction to activities and events around him/her. Wikipedia notes that,

It is a state of low mood and aversion to activities that affect a person’s thoughts,         behaviour, feelings, and sense of well-being.

It is an expression of sad feelings of gloom and inadequacy. It robs its victims of free social existence and reduces performance rates.

In children, the effects are even worse. Aside from social withdrawal, depression can deposit masses of academic decline on a child and ignite temperaments deviant to societal norms and etiquettes. Moving further to children living in slums, ghettos, and clustered communities where abuse is inevitably rampant, depression becomes a common experience among children.

Reactions by caregivers, parents and those close to depressed children have often worsened the situation. This is partly to the fact that, these persons are ignorant of the trauma the child is experiencing. In less-informed households and communities, such children are seen as being stubborn, uncultured, and deviant. For this reason, response and efforts to the depressed child have often been wrongly applied leading to abuse and further depression. For the few who have raised eyebrows to eradicate this health concern, implementation strategies have been shallow and the information-base scanty.

Therefore, this document will provide cutting-edge information on depression among children – causes, effects/symptoms, and prevention.

Causes of Depression

Depression is caused by a combination of factors largely grouped into social, health, and biological factors. While some of these factors have mild effects, others hit intensely and heighten the extent and level of depression. For example, social factors such as abuse, family crisis, and peer pressure can result in high-level depression rates.

These factors are discussed as follows:

Social factors

Every child is born into a society that shapes his/her life from childhood to adulthood. As strongly believed and taught, the society where a child is born is the primary agent of social change and perspective a child gathers. These perspectives are subject to the events, activities, and experiences that run through the child’s life capable of influencing his/her responses. These factors exist in every society but at varying levels of influence.

Common social factors for childhood depression include, but not limited to;

Child Abuse

In societies where abuse is rampant, depression is inevitable. Child abuse has been defined as the physicalsexual, or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or other caregiver. Child abuse may include any act or failure to act by a parent or other caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child and can occur in a child’s home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. Read more on child abuse here.

Abuse is a major contributing factor to childhood depression as it easily leaves the child with no options other than to become sad, withdrawn, and temperamental. Any form of it, whether physical, psychological, or sexual often creates room for depression. Abuse can come from several angles and forms. It has been discovered that the primary caregiver of a child presents the greater percentage of abuse (ignorantly or not), sometimes not conspicuous enough but stealthily affecting the overall performance and growth of the child.

Family crisis

You can’t just expect a child living in a home where the father beats up the mother nearly every day to feign happiness. The effect of seeing the mother being battered every now and then is enough to cause extreme depression. Children can feel and understand situations in the family. Most of them react to these situations by becoming sad, highly stimulated, sleepless, unnecessarily angry, and easily offended.

In addition, children birthed by broken homes, the death of a parent and ill parent are likely to develop a level of depression. Sometimes, these homes might be experiencing difficulties coping with the basic needs of life (feeding, clothing, and shelter) due to unemployment or low income of the household head. In such times, the influence on the child can lead to depression.

Environment

A child’s immediate environment can cause depression. By immediate environment, I am referring to the place where a child exists at a particular time – school, home, church, event centres, hospital, and many others. The scenes and activities in these environments, which are subject to the mental interpretations of the child, can raise a particular level of depression. For instance, a child who witnesses violent acts, riots, or an accident is likely to be depressed, even if temporary.

Peer influence

As children develop and grow, they begin to bond and establish relationships. In these relationships, they become easily influenced and try to live like their peers. At some relationship levels, bullies exist. The actions of bullies, especially to children of lesser ages, can give rise to a state of depression on the bullied. Likewise, children who are often mocked, ignored, and treated as inferiors by their peers will become easily withdrawn and moody. The resultant effect of such actions, especially when they occur regularly, cause depression on the victim(s). Given the fact that children don’t easily tell their parents or caregivers the experience they have with their friends or peers makes the situation worse. Silently, they suffer greatly from these experiences, aggravating (slowly) levels of depression.

Unwholesome habits

Certain habits in children can lead to depression. Though it’s not common to see children engage in habits like drugging and alcohol consumption, it has, however, been found that the few who had indulged in such practices have ended in a state of depression. Smoking has also been discovered to trigger mental disorders that interfere with the normal functioning of a child.

Biological factors

Biological factors such as heredity and adverse weather conditions have equally been noted to cause depression in children. Of these two, heredity remains the likely biological factor to induce depression.

According to the analysis made by Samantha Gluck in Health Place, parents who have been diagnosed with depression, especially at tender age pose 40% chance of giving birth to children with the tendency of being depressed. This is due to the fact children inherit certain traits (of which depression is not exempted) from their parents. Sometimes, illnesses are equally inherited.

Equally, the atmospheric condition of a place at particular seasons can contribute to this. During unfavourable and adverse weather conditions, children can become temporarily depressed arising from high or low temperatures, dusty and dry air, and many other conditions. This is often complemented by mild illnesses such as a headache, fever, etc.

Health factors

Depression, as it stands, is a health concern that must be addressed to ensure the total growth of a child. Children suffering from chronic medical conditions are likely to be depressed. Health conditions such as severe diabetes, asthma, head injury, and epilepsy in children have linked to depression. Some of these conditions can make the child, anxious, unrelaxed, self-blaming, and dejected. It has, however, been discovered that children with mental conditions are more likely to be depressed.

In most cases, depression occurs because of a child’s reaction to medical therapy. Most medications and drugs used for treating children have the tendency to leave side effects. While the side effects in some are often slight, others can be very serious causing unrest and instability.

Effects of Childhood Depression

With the increase in research into Childhood depression, most children do not get the help they need to this treatable illness especially in developing countries. This illness, if left untreated, leads from mild to severe effects. Some of these effects may be Physical but if left untreated would definitely lead to serious social effects.

The effects of depression general include eating disorders, emotional withdrawal, withdrawal from colleagues, decreased performance at school, among others. These are discussed in the sections that follow.

Eating disorders

Depression is often a factor of eating disorder among Children but most common among Teenagers. An eating disorder often begins with the best of intentions – a desire to lose weight as a result of peer pressure or in order to kill depression by eating whatever is available. Children who suffer from eating disorder feel inferior, hence, they become obsessed with perfectionism. In some children, emotional trauma occurs as a result of recent challenge they are going through which may result in eating disorder. The most common diagnoses of an eating disorder are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Children who suffer from emotional trauma are mostly victims of Binge-eating disorder. People with binge eating disorder are frequently overweight or obese, for instance. This can lead them to feel chronically depressed about the way they look. After succumbing to an episode of binge eating, they may feel disgusted with themselves, worsening their depression.

On the other hand, people who tend to control their weight as a result of peer pressure suffer from Anorexia. They fail to eat sufficient food which often goes wrong. People who fall under this type of eating disorder tend to fall at risk of suicide.

Sleep Disorder

Depression involves sadness, hopelessness, impaired thinking, distorted self-judgment, and nightmares. It has been discovered that there is a link between sleep and depression. When children get depressed they tend to suffer from Insomnia hypersomnia. For children, sleep problems may result purely from poor sleep habits and inadequate sleep hygiene. However, for a small percentage of children, sleep problems might represent symptoms of depression.

Depression when left untreated leads to series of consequences. There are a number of consequences of depression that can last a lifetime. The most common effects of long-term depression affect children socially. The social effects of depression change how a child will relate to his/her colleagues and other people.

Emotional Withdrawal

An emotionally depressed child tends to withdraw emotionally from friends and family members. He/she may appear sad and withdraw from everyone around to avoid talking about his/her problems. It is common for the depressed person not to show an interest in activities going on around him/her. If encouraged to spend time with loved ones and other children he may retreat to bed or become irritable.

Social Withdrawal

Social withdrawal is also common in depression. This may involve the refusal to attend parties and sports activities. A depressed child may quit attending the once-pleasurable activities such as a visit to the playground, birthday parties or weekly movie with friends. This loss of interest may seem gradual or abrupt. This is often because the depression can make conversation and supposed fun feel like too much of an effort which depletes his/her energy reserves, making the individual feel bored.

Withdrawal from Friends and Colleagues

Children suffering from depression may withdraw from colleagues, classmates or neighbours. A once outspoken person may suddenly sit quietly during classes, unable to make any meaningful contribution to the class projects. This often occurs due to the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness found in depressed individuals. It can be exacerbated by an inability to concentrate or create new ideas. In severe depression, the child often sneaks out of classes to avoid confrontation or hurry to bed when among family members.

Decreased performance at school

A survey carried out in the united states showed that bright students who suddenly begin to decline are often as a result of depression. This would normally result in poor concentration, memory lapses and the patient feeling as though nothing is worthwhile during classes. This leads to sudden loss of assimilation and drop in school grades. The patient might find it difficult to manage her schoolwork, have problems remembering new information. It was discovered that some depressed children pretend to be ill in order to stop attending school.

The level of depression also tells on how rapid the grades of a child is likely to drop. “The lower the self-reported grade point average (GPA) or the more the GPA had declined from the previous term, the more commonly the adolescents were depressed.” As the level of the depression increases, the child’s performance in school decreases.

Substance use and abuse

Depression is a primary cause of the increase in substance use and abuse among Children and adolescents.  For some, substance use may be a way of self-medicating to feel better or “normal.” Substance abuse due to childhood depression typically begins in adolescence but may start as early as age 10.

Like Adults children and adolescents when passing through disheartening situations start to think for the best way out to become happy at once hence the substance abuse comes into play. The victim gradually gets addicted to the use of Hard Drugs or Alcohol to help get rid of the bad feelings.

A quick shot, a line of cocaine, will temporarily reduce depression, but the aftermath when the chemical leaves the body brings the depression to new lows. This happens each time an abused chemical leaves the body. When this drugs and alcohol are being used together with medications, it could either deactivate or make the drug stronger hence inflicting health damages on the patient.

Self-harming and self-mutilation behaviours

Depression is a trigger of self-harming and mutilation. Most people, including medical practitioners, believe that self-mutilation is an attention seeking act among children which might lead to the alienation of the child hence the child keeps this as a secret when they are attended to in this way.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviours

Suicide has become much more common in children than it used to be and is on the increase. The result of a survey shows that 66 percent of suicides have depression as a factor. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people. A major cause of suicide is mental illness, very commonly depression. Recent evidence suggests it is the lack of substance abuse, guns, and relationship problems in younger children which accounts for the lower suicide rates in children compared to adults.

People often think the main reason children and adolescents try to commit suicides is to get attention which is far from the truth. When children and adolescents are actually asked right after their suicide attempts, their reasons for trying suicide are more like adults. For a third, their main reason for trying to kill themselves is that they wanted to die. Another reason is that they wanted to escape from a hopeless situation or a horrible state of mind.

Predicting suicide is very difficult. It is even more difficult in children and adolescents.

How to Help Children Tackle Depression

Depression is a treatable health issue and just like every other health concern, giving prompt response remains the best therapy. Several therapies have been test-run and applied to alleviate the problem. While some have been found to work very effectively, few others have failed to tackle the situation. In the broad sense, it begins with understanding the situation at hand.

1. Understand and Identify Depression in Children

The first step to tackling depression in teenagers is first knowing/ identifying that the child is depressed by compounding the symptoms and effects. The primary caregiver (parents, brother, sister, relatives, guardians, etc.) is the child’s best advocate and first point of call in overcoming this concern. So each caregiver is encouraged to learn about depression; symptoms, causes and care. Education can empower the caregiver and even the teenager and motivate the healing process. If depression is identified quickly it is definitely a treatable condition. More attention would be paid to warning signs if friends and family members help watch out.

2. Be Supportive

Try to build empathy and understanding by putting yourself in the child’s shoes. One of the most important things you can do for your teen is to work on strengthening your relationship. You might be frustrated that he/she seems down and irritable a lot of the time and does not seem to be doing much of anything to help himself/herself. But if there is not much in his life that is making him happy, or something intensely disappointing has happened to him, it is understandable that he might avoid things he used to enjoy and retreat to his/her room. Depression makes even doing the smallest things difficult. Try validating his/her emotions, not his unhealthy behaviour e.g it seems as though you have been really down lately. Is that true? Make it clear that you want to try to understand not solve them.

Be compassionately curious, ask questions about their moods gently. Even parents with the best intentions often do not realise that their concerns can be interpreted as being critical/judgmental rather than loving. Listen to them while they talk about their problems. People generally do not like the thought of being seen as faulty and in need of a fix. Try also to give opportunities to do things without your contribution e.g. instead of saying ‘You should get up from that bed and watch TV‘ say ‘I’m going out in a bit, let me know if you want to come‘.

Being there and communicating your acceptance is often all that a depressed teenager needs. Make sure you are noticing positive teens and affirming/commending those things rather than the negative e.g. If they hang out with their friends for an hour be sure to applaud that as a step towards the right direction.

3. Create Counselling Sessions with the Child

Some teenagers might require psychotherapy (talk therapy)/ psychological counselling where they can talk about their states and related issues. It can be one-on-one with family members or with a group but such sessions are to be regular.

During these sessions, the teen can,

  • Learn about the causes of depression,
  • Learn how to identify and make changes in unhealthy behaviours or thoughts,
  • Explore relationships and experiences,
  • Find better ways to cope and solve problems,
  • Set realistic goals,
  • Regain a sense of happiness and control,
  • Help ease depression symptoms such as hopelessness and anger,
  • Adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty,
  • Make sure the child adopts healthy habits like regular exercises, even light physical activities that can help reduce depression symptoms.
  • Encourage communication with your teen. Talk about the changes you are observing and emphasize your unconditional; support. Create an environment where your teen can share concerns while you listen, and
  • Remove dangerous and suicidal weapons from the house if you have a depressed teenager. Ensure frequent monitoring of a teenager who decides to stick to his or her room although you can suggest staying out of a lonely and quiet place to such a teenager.

4. Seek Medical Advice

Sometimes, having tried different methods with no result, it is advisable to seek the service of a medical expatriate or counsellor. This can involve the child or the caregiver alone, depending on which is appropriate. These persons might introduce you to new and current effective ways of handling the situation. In most cases, routine appointments might be needed during the treatment period to allow for proper assessment and monitoring of the child’s response and overall progress.

It worth mentioning that not just anyone should be approached to provide medicare to depressed children. The wrong choice can aggravate the situation and crippled prior efforts made up to that point. This, therefore, calls for carefulness and enquiry on who to approach. In respect to fields of operations, paediatrics, social care workers, psychologists, guidance and counselling staffs, and mental health personnel would be of help.

However, not all of these professionals are actually capable of performing such duties. Therefore, as stated earlier, you will have to critically assess whosoever you want to reach out to for help.

5. Accept the Child as He/She is

Children are highly inquisitive, and that heightens as they develop.Thier inquisitive inclination can sometimes lead to temporary depression concerns.  It is acceptable to see them withdraw from others, get angry and become sad, sometimes. This indicates proper growth and development. Most often, caregivers make the mistake of over expectation from the children they provide care to. Therefore, in helping children overcome depression, you have to accept their being – who they are and what they are passing through at the time. Make the child understand you accept the way he or she is and that nobody thinks or feels otherwise.  This will lighten whatever burden the child carrying and set the path for applying other curatives.

Finally

Depression in a child should be taken seriously. It can render a child mentally retarded permanently if no prompt attention is given. As the primary caregiver or someone who relates with children at the basic level, try as many times as possible to conduct a routine assessment (via observations, verbal engagements, etc.) to ascertain the existence of depression. Irrespective of how minute or mild the level of depression, you have diagnosed, might be, don’t hesitate to act on addressing it.


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