Recently, a friend asked me, “Do children also go through depression?” I did not answer. Not because I didn’t know the answer but because it got me thinking about the subject. Many adults assume that kids are immune to depression. However, research indicates that depression onset is occurring earlier, often persisting, recurring, and continuing into adulthood, in life today than in past decades. Studies have shown that children also suffer from depression much like adults.
What Is Depression In Children?
Children go through a range of emotions, and sometimes can be cranky, down, or think negatively. This is just part of growing up. But depression in children is more than just feeling sad, blue, or low. Depression in children is a serious illness, which can affect children’s physical and mental health.
Katie Hurley writes, “Depression is a serious medical condition that can negatively affect a child’s ability to connect with friends and family, enjoy normal activities, attend school and concentrate while there and enjoy childhood”.
Signs and Symptoms
It is rather hard to tell the difference between sadness and depression in children. They can have varying symptoms of depression. However, if a child displays signs of depression lasting more than two weeks, anxiety or depression may be the cause. Children are not immune to factors that can affect their mental health. Here are some signs and symptoms that might help identify if a child is suffering from depression:
- a child has a persistent feeling of sadness or down for more than a few weeks
- a child thinks more hopeless or helpless and negative than usual
- a child seems to have a loss of interest in daily activities and decreased energy
- a child stops enjoying life because of sad thoughts and feeling of low esteem
Generally, children would drastically change in their emotions, interest in everyday activities, academic performance, mood, thinking, and behavior. Children suffering from depression often feel negative about themselves, their situation, and their future. They can feel hopeless, irritable, withdrawn, and bored most of the time.
Risk Factors and Life Stressors
What is it that causes depression in children? It is very important to understand the risk factors and life stressors that act as catalysts in kids falling into depression. Researchers have found these common risk factors for major depression in children:
- History of depression: especially if a parent experienced depression
- Abuse or neglect as a result of the conflict at home
- Dealing with trauma and bullying – physical and emotional
- Loss of a relationship - parent, friend, or other loved one
- Other developmental, learning, or conduct disorders
How Can I Provide Support?
Parents, caregivers, and teachers play an important role when it comes to any treatment process. Guardians must understand that depression has shown to often coexist with other psychiatric or anxiety disorders. Seeking early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to recovery. That includes providing support at home and professional support.
There are simple and effective ways to help a child overcome and fight depression at home. Educating a child about depression is a very crucial first step. Make time to talk. Recognizing symptoms and signs of depression early on in kids will be a big leap in your fight against depression. Personal counseling will help your child begin to open up and verbalize feelings; it’s your job to listen and provide unconditional support when your child opens up at home. Encourage daily exercise or involved in an activity that allows for socialization even if it’s only for a short period of time
As well as working with kids at home, seek professional help, depending on the nature of the disorder, with a mental health therapist such as a psychologist, counselor, pediatrician, or psychiatrist. Therapies can train a child to handle challenges and deal it with much effectively and positively. It can help a child to be less susceptible to depression again.
How Should the Church Support?
Very often, churches take the back-seat approach when it comes to the mental wellbeing of their members. Merely dismissing mental health issues as an indication of weak faith helps in no way. It only stigmatizes a person battling the sickness. Churches and their organ bodies should address mental health at grass root levels. The church must lead in guiding and providing necessary platforms to help its members, whether it’s the adult, youth, or kids.
The church must come together as a community in approaching and helping people struggling with mental health issues. Healing comes from a prayerful, loving community that seeks to truly understand the major depressive disorder and related conditions, and one that develops a positive response. One big way to help kids in the church is to train the Sunday school teachers to handle these issues. Having a child counselor or therapist stationed in the church is another way to help them.
Without the right treatment, symptoms of depression can continue for weeks, months, or years. In addition to causing interpersonal and psychosocial problems, depression in children is also associated with an increased risk for suicide. It is very important for parents and care providers of children to take all depressive and suicidal symptoms very seriously and seek treatment immediately.