Children Also Get Depressed

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 Today, more Americans experience depression and they do so at a younger age than they have ever done before. A study conducted by National Institute of Mental Health, called the "Relatives Study," found that in the last forty years the average age of the first episode of depression has reduced by ten years. For people born between 1930-1955, who had a depressed relative, their first episode of depression occurred before age thirty-five. For people born in 1956 or later, their first depressive episode occurred before age twenty-five. We tend to think that youngsters are too young to be depressed. The facts prove otherwise. Forty-seven out of one thousand teenagers are severely depressed at any given time.

Studies show that children who are severely depressed are at risk for attempting or completing suicide. In one such study, for a period of eighteen years, researchers followed children who were diagnosed at the outpatient clinic with Major Depression. Twenty-two percent of these children attempted suicide within a period of twelve years. Many children succeed in taking their own life away. In the 18-year follow-up, 2.5 percent of children with Major Depression actually completed suicide. In another study, the findings were even more shocking; 4.4 percent of children and adolescents with Major Depression completed suicide in a ten-year period.

Unfortunately, the number of completed suicides among teenagers and children is increasing at an alarming pace; it has tripled in the last forty years. Among high school students, between 8 to 9 percent attempt suicide each year. One of five suicide attempters is a "repeater." Interesting enough, all children who resort to suicide attempts or complete suicide, do not come from broken, abusive, or neglected homes. Some come from unremarkable families, that is, without any history of abuse, neglect or extraordinary hardship.

The following conditions put children at risk for suicide: substance abuse; access to lethal weapons; breakup of a major relationships; problems with gender identity or sexual orientation, and depression. Access to a gun for a depressed kid can be lethal. Depressed adolescents who have access to a gun at home kill themselves five times more than the kids who don't. Parents, keep guns away in a safe place at home and be alert for signs of depression.

If a child has been depressed for more than a couple of weeks, consult a professional. Sometimes, parents wait much too long hoping it will go away in a few days. They play down the significance of a depressive illness thinking, "we all have our ups and downs." Depression is not an occasional sad mood that will blow over in just a few hours or days. Left untreated, the average length of Major Depression is 36 weeks, which amounts to almost an entire school year. Fifty-four percent of children who are depressed today, will have another bout of depression in the next three years. If a child has been depressed once, his or her chances of getting depressed again are fifty-fifty. In cases where depression reoccurs, the longer the duration of the first episode of depression, the sooner the second episode will follow.

If you are a parent, you must be asking yourself how do I know if my child is depressed? What signs do I watch for? Understand that it is particularly difficult to identify depression in teenagers. When teenagers are troubled and parents inquire about what is wrong, they are likely to yell, "leave me alone." At the same time, parents wonder if they are violating their child's space. Parents should discuss openly with their children where does their child's privacy end and where does parental responsibility begin? Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Discuss your concerns in a non-provocative manner and encourage your child to discuss what is bothering him or her.

Any one of the following signs of depression should alert parents for a professional consultation:

1. Increase in irritability/annoyance. Note that many teenagers are depressed but they do not appear so. Instead of frank depression, a teenager is more likely to exhibit irritability. Has your child lately become more irritable?

2. Increase in complaining behavior. Teenagers tend to be critical. One way of separating oneself from others and establish one's own independence and identity, is by criticizing and finding fault with others. But, the question is how widespread the complaints are? Has he or she started complaining about everything, including school, friends, parents, self, etc.?

3. Weight change. Weight loss or weight gain both can be symptoms of depression. Depression-related weight loss is particularly tricky as it may be confused with the drive for dieting and slimming.

4. Sleep disturbance. Too little sleep or too much sleep both can be symptoms of depression. Sleep disturbance is particularly difficult to detect if a teenager stays most of the time in his or her room. You may not find out how much sleep he or she is really getting.

Other signs to watch for: decreased interest and participation in usual activities; decreased appetite; decreased energy and increased complaints of tiredness; becoming mentally and physically slow; diminished sense of self-worth; guilt; decreased concentration and attention; declining grades and suicidal thoughts and expression of a death wish.


Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor