We Mississippians are so creative we can dwarf a diagnosable major mental illness (depression) into a major money maker (the Blues). Similarly, there’s a widely held myth that “Wild Women Never Get the Blues.” The true is, with a quarter of the population of women reporting having experienced depression, wild women may very well be running from the blues.
In addition, we have much misinformation about children and their mental health. In times past, people believed that children could not get depression. Kids who were sad, testy, and grumpy were thought to be going through a phase. This may have been the case, then again, more may have been going on. Signs of depression in children are often mistaken for bad behavior or growing pains they’ll outgrow.
Today, we know that depression and other mental illnesses in children are real. One in five children has a diagnosable mental illness. Untreated mental health problems can disrupt children’s functioning at home, school and in the community. And two-thirds of the kids who need help don’t get it. Without treatment, children with mental health issues are at increased risk of school failure, contact with the criminal justice system, dependence on drugs and alcohol and, even suicide.
Parents and family members should be the first to notice if a child has emotional or behavior problems. But they need to know what to look for, and be open to getting help. There’s a big difference between a child that’s just being moody or difficult, and one that is suffering from depression.
Dr. Ben Vitiello, MD, the chair of the Child and Adolescent Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch within the National Institute of Mental Health reported “the two most important signs of depression in children are sadness that lasts most of the day and an irritable, angry mood. These signs are often accompanied by an inability to enjoy things that used to be fun, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and feeling tired all the time for no medical reason.” Also decline in school performance, poor grades despite strong efforts, constant worry or anxiety, frequent temper tantrums may be present. We have also seen these children complain of feeling sick, cling to a parent or caregiver, or worry excessively that a parent may die.
The first step in treating depression is to understand what could be causing it. Depression in children is caused by a combination of three things. There must either be major things wrong with their lives, something major wrong with their body and or mind, or a strong family history of depression. Often more than one is present. There is an interaction between environment and genes. If bad things happen to a child and there is a family history of depression, depression is likely to occur. All forms of child abuse and neglect, inconsistent parenting, seeing and being victim to violence or crime, and living in a chaotic home all contribute. Girls are more likely than boys to experience depression. The risk for depression increases as a child gets older. Too, recent studies found that kids who watch more than 6 hours of television a day have more problems with depression, anxiety, and aggression.
If your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, a comprehensive treatment plan should be developed with the family that includes the child in the treatment decisions. Psychotherapy, family therapy, family group therapy, medication are among the evidence based forms of treatment that are recommended.
So, What’s a Parent To Do?
1. If you suspect your child might be depressed, don’t ignore it. Get help. The sooner the better. Early treatment produces better results.
2. Family support is important. Depressed children often feel isolated, even when they’re not alone. Family time combined with a consistent positive, nurturing environment may be as helpful to the child’s recovery as medication or therapy.
3. Help your child complete the treatment regimen even when it seems difficult at times.
Yes, children can get the blues. Depression in children can be very disruptive, and impacts not just the one suffering but the whole family. With early diagnosis and treatment, most children with depression can be effectively healed.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. August 6, 2013
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a private Clinical in Springfield for more than 40 years. She lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.