When we think of children, we often imagine mischievous tiny tots. We picture them giggling, their innocent, happy faces with not a trace of worry. If at all we see a child glum, we do not imagine the reason to be depression. After all, what could a child possibly have to be stressed or anxious about? When we think of teenagers, we imagine older children who are fun-loving and happy-go-lucky. This attitude of theirs is often an adult’s envy. So, if at all we see a teenager unhappy, we simply associate it with the mood swings caused by their adolescent hormones. Seldom do we think children or teenagers are even capable of suffering from depression.
Horrendous as it sounds, individuals could spiral down into the abyss of depression even in their early years. A study conducted by the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health shows that the deadly mental illness does not even spare three year olds. Contrary to the prevalent idea that they are developmentally immature to experience depressive symptoms, children display the same symptoms as adults when depressed, it states. They may appear lethargic and lazy. They may suddenly lose interest in activities that once interested them. Eventually, they may become anti-social and/or aggressive. Prone to excessive guilt, some begin to contemplate death, and even attempt suicide.
Depression is an abyss that even adults struggle to get out of. How then, can a child or a teenager cope? Of course, there are plenty of options available to treat children/teenagers suffering from depression. Clinical psychologist Tishya Mahindru Sahani cites psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy and medication as some of the options. “Initially psychotherapy is administered. Eventually anti-depressant medications are added only if there is no improvement,” she says.
Soulveda thus explores various causes of depression in children and teenagers. With these in mind, parents can keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of depression in their young ones. And by keeping the channels of communication open, they can get the children the help they need and gently guide them out of the darkness.
It is common knowledge that several mental illnesses such as autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia run in the family. Many researchers speculate that depression too could be hereditary. But, as of now, studies have not been able to isolate the responsible gene conclusively. Nevertheless, a study by Stanford University speculates that around 50% of depression cases could be a result of genetic factors. It goes on to state that if the parents or siblings have been affected by major depression, then the child is two or three times more prone to developing the condition.
Flawed parenting and mentoring
A child or a teen often spends most of their time at home or school. It is there that the foundation for the rest of their lives is laid. This is why the role of parents and teachers can make or break a child’s attitude and personality. Unfortunately, there are a few common mistakes which we as parents or teachers often make, that affect a child psychologically. “For instance, we may have inadvertently neglected children or physically / verbally abused them. Other times, we may have compared them with their peers. Each of this results in children developing low self-esteem and anxiety, and in some cases depression,” says Mahindru.
Children and teens exposed to frequent family fights are always anxious and on guard because they never feel safe. They feel embarrassed to talk about it to outsiders and hence isolate themselves from their social circles.