Approximately 3 to 5% of children and adolescents are affected by major depression. In addition, at any given time, approximately 15% of children and adolescents demonstrate some symptoms of depression (out of which around 5% qualify as major depressives). The prevalence rate increases after puberty. It is believed that by the age of 14, depressive disorders are twice as common in girls as in boys. This can have a negative impact on their growth and development, family and peer relationships and school performance. Major depression is also a leading cause of suicidal behavior and suicide.
Childhood depression can have a negative impact on all aspects of a child’s life. It is known to be associated with obesity, heart disease, inactivity and smoking. The relationship with heart problems has been confirmed by a study conducted by the University of South Florida, University of Pittsburgh and Washington University. These negative consequences highlight the importance of understanding childhood depression and taking measures to prevent it as well as outlining options for its treatment.
There is no doubt that depression is one of the most misunderstood disorders. Most people think children cannot have depression but the fact is that major depressive disorders can occur in people from their childhood to their later years. It becomes even more challenging to understand and diagnose depression in children because it is difficult to distinguish between normal hormonal changes and true depression.
Parents need to be proactive when it comes to recognizing depression in children and to consult a professional when it becomes evident that this might be the case. Some common signs and symptoms of childhood depression include anxiety, chronic pain, angry outbursts and frequent tantrums, clinging behavior, digestive disorders, low energy levels, sadness, tiredness, troublesome behavior, lack of concentration, insomnia or oversleeping, memory loss, excessive sulking, weight loss, unwillingness to go to school, lack of excitement and pleasure and a feeling of hopelessness.
It is also important to pay attention to the child’s external environment when determining the cause of depression. For e.g. being bullied in school has been known to cause depression in children. A new study conducted by British National Child Development reveals that childhood bullying can result in long term mental and physical damage that can lead to depression in adulthood. Researchers from Kings College London report that children who have been bullied in their early years have a definite negative impact on their physical, social and mental wellbeing as opposed to those who have had a loving and kind childhood.
When dealing with depression in children, it is important to understand that there are two types of depression. Major depression lasts around two weeks and can occur more than once in a child’s life. Major depression can also be triggered as a result of a traumatic experience or tragedy. The second type of depression is dysthymia. This is less severe but chronic and generally lasts for at least two years. The fact is that it is important to understand and recognize depression in order to be able to treat it well. Parents who are vigilant in recognizing it can be more successful in getting professional help for their children than those who fail to do so or who choose to ignore such symptoms.