Sally’s teacher pulls her mother aside and says, “I am worried about Sally. She seems to be having difficulty concentrating and never seems to be having fun during any of our class activities. Is everything alright at home?” Sally’s mother has been wondering the same thing about school as Sally seems to get upset at the smallest things and always seems tired and wants to sleep. She knows that this is not typical for most nine year olds but is not sure what to do next.
Childhood depression is often overlooked as an issue since it occurs less frequently than adolescent or adult depression. Yet 1-3% of elementary aged children have depression and most do not receive help. This is partly due to the fact that childhood depression has a range of symptoms and there is no one pattern that is unique to children. While Sally is displaying the symptoms above, other children may have changes in their appetite, physical complaints, refusal to go to school, social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, and/or increased sensitivity to rejection. Boys and girls are equally affected.
While any child may develop childhood depression, there are specific risk factors that make children more likely to develop the disorder. Children who have family members that have had depression are at greater risk. In addition, children are at greater risk when they are under stress, have experienced a significant loss, or who have attention, learning or conduct disorders.
If parents see their child exhibiting some of the symptoms mentioned above or if teachers make comments about changes in the child’s behavior, then it is time to act. This is particularly true if the behaviors have been going on for more than two weeks. The good news is that depression is treatable, as most children who receive proper and early intervention can be helped. The first step is to consult with the child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional. A mental health professional can provide a thorough evaluation and help treat the child with counseling.
While a child’s depressive episode can resolve on its’ own, it puts the child at a much higher risk of developing future bouts of depression that can extend through the rest of his life. Acting early and intervening can give the child the tools needed to cope when and if the depression returns.
This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in October 2013.