Ahhh, the "winter blues"... a sometimes flippant expression used to sum up winter's harshness; cold weather, confinement to buildings, lack of sunlight, and the melancholy mood of hibernation. Yet, the "blues" part of winter cannot, and should not, be lumped into a definition of weather or activity. "Blues" can also mean depression: not a jolly kind of winter slowing down defined by the ebb and flow of seasons. Depression is a serious illness that should be attended to and treated. Children are not immune from it.
Childhood depression is not a seasonal or easily predicted disorder, yet according to the National Health Association up to 2.5% of children and 8.3% of adolescents in the U.S. suffer from depression. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology estimates that about 5% of kids are suffering from depression at any one time. A history of close family members with depression increases the risk of occurrence for children in that family. (http://www.behavioradvisor.com/Depression.html, accessed Nov. 2011) Depression was once thought to be an adult malady but in the last thirty years, it has become clear that it occurs in children, as well. Children are diagnosed and given subsequent treatment more often than adults may think. It behooves the welfare of the family for parents to recognize and educate themselves on the reality of depression in children.
Get Your Research On
Psych Central.com is the Internet's largest and oldest independent mental health and psychology network run by mental health professionals. It defines depression as "a serious health problem that affects people of all ages, including children and adolescents. It is the persistent experience of a sad or irritable mood and the loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities. These feelings are accompanied by a range of additional symptoms affecting appetite and sleep, activity level and concentration, and feelings of self-worth." (http://psychcentral.com/disorders/depressionchild.htm, accessed Nov. 2011) Psych Central warns that clinical depression is far more than feeling "blue" or having a bad day. It is also different from the feelings of sorrow or grief following a major loss. It is a form of mental illness that affects the way one thinks, feels, and acts. Depression affects all of life as the whole body is involved.
“If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.” - Dr. R. W. Shepherd
No one can predict what causes an individual to develop depression. Two people can experience very similar situations yet have different outcomes. It is commonly and widely accepted that genetic factors play an important role. Having a parent who is depressed is the single most important risk factor for a child becoming depressed. Most people who are clinically depressed have one or more of the following causes:
Reactive - Depression as a response to environmental factors (family changes, death of a loved one, end of a relationship)
Endogenous - Depression due to biological or genetic factors (brain chemistry change, inherited predisposition to depression, trauma/injury to the brain)
Traumatic Environments - Depression as a reaction to an emotionally overwhelming experience such a child abuse, harsh conflict, or real or imagined fears of physical or emotional harm.
(http://www.behavioradvisor.com/Depression.html, accessed Nov. 2011)
Parents Staying In Tune
Depression is not an illness easily diagnosed, especially in children, who are not adept at describing or identifying their symptoms. Parents must take cues from children's' behaviors and pattern changes. As usual with illness, early detection brings better prognosis. Treatment often consists of family, as well as, individual therapy. It may also include medication. Childhood depression is a real illness that requires professional treatment.
WebMD states, "Depression is a serious mood disorder that can take the joy from a child's life. It is normal for a child to be moody or sad from time to time. You can expect these feelings after the death of a pet or a move to a new city, but if these feelings last for weeks or months they may be a sign of depression." Emotional changes are a normal part of childhood and adolescence, but it is the prolonged changes that should alarm parents. A child who once loved an activity and now has no interest in it would be a reason to visit the doctor. Something that once was fun now has little effect on the child's mood should signal a parent. Depressed children tend to withdraw and spend more time alone. Even normal daily functions become overwhelming and are compromised. Seeking medical care should not be put off if parents notice children experiencing these changes.
Parents...It's Not Your Fault
Parents do not cause childhood depression by not making their children happy. Depression is an inward illness and although it may be triggered by external stimuli, it is not caused by outward circumstances and therefore, parents cannot prevent depression from occurring in their children. However, if a child is diagnosed parents can absolutely help a child through depression at home.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller
The first responsibility of the parent is to make sure children are taking prescribed medication; it goes a long way in stabilizing the extent of depression. Second, parents need to follow through with prescribed therapy. Therapists are specifically trained in helping children identify feelings and talk through what they are experiencing. Children need this outlet provided by trained professionals. Third, parents need to provide and encourage healthy eating. Proper nutrition contributes greatly to overall health/mood. A fourth way parents can help is to make sure the child stays active. Physical activity has been shown to help alleviate depression. This may be difficult at first and parents might need to be creative in finding an "active interest." A fifth way to intervene is for parents to remind children that they are loved and cared about every day. Parents need to show expressed interest in what children have to say; good and bad. Children need the reassurance of love and acceptance. Sixth; parents need to accept the situation and praise the child's efforts. They cannot "snap out of" depression. Patience and understanding are required. Small efforts should be noted. Seventh; if there are signs of a child contemplating physical harm (gives belongings away, preoccupied with death, speaks of self-harm, substance abuse) parents should notify the doctor immediately. Lastly, children need reassurance that depression is not something of which to be ashamed. Teach children it is alright to ask for help and provide names of people they can talk to (you, school counselor, pastor, etc.). Validate their feelings and commit to finding them the help they need.
Although depression robs people/children of talent, ambition and time, the wonderful news is that it is treatable. Suffering can be limited and managed to ensure a healthy childhood despite the unwelcomed interruption of depression's arrival. Parents need to be aware of its prominence and appearance so they can be the first line of defense for children. Clinical depression will not go away on its own: it is not a wound that will heal over time; it is an illness that needs intervention to promote future health.
Albert Camus, Nobel Prize winner for Literature, mid-twentieth century who suffered depression said, "In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." Depression appears as a winter of the soul; dark, desolate, and lifeless. Yet, modern day medicine and clinical practices can now take this "winter" and help sufferers discover that seasons can change; spring and summer lie within.
1 (http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_depressed_child, accessed Nov. 2011)
2(http://www.pamguide.com.au/mood/child_dep_test.php, accessed Nov. 2011)