Childhood is frequently thought of as a happy time with no worries or responsibilities. With closer inspection of our own or other’s childhoods, we recognize that having the “blues,” feeling sad, being worried or anxious are everyday emotions that children go through as they develop.
A recent review by Dr. J. Casarella with WebMD discusses depression in childhood. She notes that just because a child seems sad doesn’t necessarily mean they’re depressed. However, if that sadness becomes persistent or interferes with normal social activities, interest, schoolwork or family life, it may mean they have a depressive illness.
Sometimes depression seems to come out of nowhere and other times when children are under stress or grieving. Bullying and spending much time using social media may be associated with depression. Depression also has been associated with other problems such as attention problems, learning issues, conduct or anxiety disorders.
It’s important to understand that depression is not caused by one thing but probably by a combination of factors interacting with one another. The two factors can be grouped into two broad categories: biology and psychology. The biologic factors include genes, hormones and brain chemicals.
Genetic factors are suggested because depression often runs in families. However, a person may inherit the gene making them vulnerable but never have the illness. Hormonal changes occur during depression.
The brain goes through some changes before and during the depressive episode. Certain parts of the brain are affected causing over-/under-production of some hormones. Medication can be effective in treatment.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help the nerve cells to communicate. It’s believed that during depression there’s reduced activity of one or more of these chemicals. Many antidepressant drugs increase the neurotransmitters in the brain.
The primary symptoms of depression, which are similar in children and adults, are sadness or low mood, feelings of hopelessness and mood changes. Younger children may have a depressed mood and act out or have angry behavior.
Some of the signs and symptoms of depression in children include crankiness; social withdrawal; more or less appetite or sleep; crying; fatigue; physical complaints (stomachache and headache); decreased interest in activities at home, school, with friends; impaired thinking and concentration; and most important, thoughts of death or suicide.
The lifetime prevalence of major depressive disorder in the United States’ 13- to 18-year-olds is 11 percent (about 1 in 10) and about 7 percent of depressed teens attempt suicide. Suicide deaths in the 15 to 24 age group are about 5,000 annually and the rates during the pandemic crisis are going up.
Call 911 immediately if suicide was attempted today, your child acts confused or you think it’s a life-threatening emergency. Go to the emergency room if there are threats of suicide or if they have a plan for or thoughts of suicide. Call your doctor immediately if your child can’t be calmed down or is severely depressed.
The National Suicide Hotline is 800-273-8255. The local Teen Health Center also is a mental health resource.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.
Originally Appeared Here