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childhood depression
by Nancy Schimelpfening

The Myth of a Happy Childhood

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could recapture the carefree days of childhood? Kids have absolutely nothing to worry about, do they? No bills to pay, bosses to answer to, or obligations to keep. They have none of the everyday stresses that we adults have. But, is childhood really a time of bliss? The truth is, childhood is far from being without stress.

Children can be faced with many difficulties that they are ill-equipped to handle emotionally: divorce, poverty, learning disabilities, abuse, and neglect just to name a few. Children by nature feel powerless against these situations and the effects can remain with them well into adulthood.

But, what if your child does not fall into any of these categories? Does this guarantee a child free from depression? The answer is no.

A very important factor in childhood depression is that it may be a biologically based illness.

Children with an inherited tendency for depression will be highly susceptible to the strains caused by the need for peer acceptance. Because it is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry, it may appear to you that there is nothing so severely wrong in your child's life that would merit being depressed. Just as with adult depression, a child's perception of the world may be distorted. He may feel that he is unlovable, "stupid", or "bad" even though these things simply are not true.

Further complicating matters is the fact that young children do not have labels for these feelings and cannot vocalize what it is that's happening to them. They may not even realize that they are not normal feelings. To a child, it may seem that this is "just the way life is".

What can you as a parent, teacher, or other concerned adult do to help? The most important thing you can do is to realize that children can become depressed just like adults and you should promptly seek out help if you see the signs of depression in a child.

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Depression in Children & Adolescents
From Jerry Wilde, PhD

It may come as a shock to some, but depression among school-aged children is becoming increasingly commonplace. Approximately 10% of adolescents (2.2 million) experienced at least one major period of depression in the past year. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of children and adolescents suffering from depression also had another mental health disorder such as an anxiety disorder or a substance abuse disorder. Finally, children and adolescents with major depressive disorder are much more likely to commit suicide. Simply put, depression in school-aged children is real and it's a serious problem that all too often goes unnoticed.

I am often asked, "How do I know if my child is depressed?" That's a simple question but the answer is more complicated. A lot of children and adolescents experience some of the symptoms of depression.

For example, most kids eventually lose interest in some of their hobbies. That's part of the maturation process. What is important is why this change is taking place. Is it because they are exploring new interests or is the change accompanied by a general sense of sadness and hopelessness? It's those types of subtle distinctions that are important when examining issues related to depression.

With that in mind, these are the most common symptoms of major depression.

  • feeling worthless, anxious, empty, irritated &/or hopeless
  • loss of interest in activities, hobbies, or relationships
  • reduced pleasure in daily activities
  • inability to enjoy activities which used to be sources of pleasure
  • change in appetite, usually a loss of appetite but sometimes an increase
  • change in weight (unintentional weight loss or gain)
  • persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • acting-out behavior (missing curfews, unusual defiance)

If parents suspect their son or daughter may be suffering from depression, it's a good idea to see their family doctor for a check up. There are times when a child has a physical condition that's the source of the problem.

Ultimately, I recommend that parents seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can conduct a proper assessment of the child. This is too important of an issue to simply hope things get better.

Also, most schools have some type of mental health professional who can provide information or an appropriate referral.

Here are a few practical suggestions that parents can implement on their own. Increasing evidence suggests that exercise is an effective part of the treatment for depression.

The key to exercise as a depression reliever is in a brain chemical called phenylethylamine, or PEA which is a natural stimulant produced by the body. People who are depressed are low in PEA & exercise raises these levels.

Develop a family plan to ensure you're getting enough exercise to stay healthy.

Make an effort to keep your son or daughter busy & engaged in life. The natural response to depression is to withdraw from life, which is the worst thing to do. Parents need to help keep kids actively engaged in life but that's often easier said than done.

Last, but not least…act. If your child was badly hurt & bleeding, you'd take him or her to a doctor. Well, a child might be hurting on the inside where you can't see it.

Seek information & get help for your child because all too often, depression in children & adolescents is a silent killer.

Jerry Wilde is an associate professor of educational psychology for Indiana University East. Prior to this academic appointment, he had 10 years of experience as a school psychologist where he worked with students who had emotional, behavioral & learning difficulties. This article is based on his latest book, Hot Stuff to Help Kids Cheer Up, which is designed to help children & adolescents who are struggling with depression & feelings of low self-esteem.

source: click here

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