Time for Kids: 5 things to know about childhood depression

You are not alone.

That should be the main message in every situation involving childhood depression. But in too many cases, our children are not realizing it. What’s left is a world in which mental health is stigmatized and millions of kids are confused, saddened or ashamed of their feelings. We need to educate more people about what children are facing in order to further the conversation. Today, the topic is depression.

It’s not just for adults

Oftentimes, depression is thought of as something that only affects adults. Statistics prove otherwise.
Kids can start feeling depressed far earlier than you may think. As many as 2-3 percent of children ages 6-12 have serious depression, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That number jumps up to 6-8 percent for teenagers. Furthermore, an estimated 2.8 million adolescents in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2014.

“A difficult aspect of childhood depression is there’s not one single thing to point to as the cause,” SSM Health child psychologist Dr. Kathleen Hipke said. “It could be caused by family biology, physical health, major stressors, traumatic life experiences, or any combination in between.”

Some kids are more at risk

There are things that can help predict if someone has a chance of struggling with depression. Children whose biological parents have depression are at a greater risk. Girls are more likely to develop depression during adolescence, but boys are more likely to commit suicide.

“This does not diminish the fact that depression can affect a wide range of kids, regardless of age, race or gender,” Hipke said. “It’s important to be observant, even if the symptoms aren’t always obvious.”

It can be tough to spot

There are many ways depression can present itself. These are the most common signs, identified by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

A sad or irritable mood for most of the day. Your child may say they feel sad or angry or may look more tearful or cranky.

Not enjoying things that used to make your child happy
A marked change in weight or eating, either up or down
Sleeping too little at night or too much during the day
No longer wanting to be with family or friends
A lack of energy or feeling unable to do simple tasks
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt; low self-esteem
Trouble with focusing or making choices; school grades may drop
Not caring about what happens in the future
Aches and pains when nothing is really wrong
Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Any of these symptoms can occur in kids who are not depressed. The duration of symptoms is something to watch for. A case of “the blues” can last for days. Depression lasts for weeks, months or even longer.

It is important to note that some symptoms are not to be taken lightly. If your child is having frequent thoughts about death, we recommend seeking help immediately, and not waiting to see if they’ll pass.

You can help

There are some very simple ways to help manage depression in your family.

The first is to strive for an overall healthy physical lifestyle. That means healthy diets, proper sleep and plenty of exercise.

The second is to help kids along in their social development. Limit screen time and encourage them to go outside for physical activity. This will usually involve other kids, so opportunities for positive connections may follow.

Lastly, take time to talk. Set aside one-on-one time, and be sure to point out good behavior and strengths. If your child is having trouble, help them break down the issue and develop a plan to cope.

“Talking also goes the other way,” Hipke added. “Try to focus on listening far more than telling or directing your child to show that you truly care about their perspective and well-being.”

The problem needs to improve

All of this is important because of the number of kids struggling who don’t receive help. Close to 60 percent of children with depression are not getting treatment. Untreated depression leads to a decreased quality of life, or even worse.

Traditionally, younger groups have had lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. But it’s affecting more kids than ever before, including those who haven’t reached their late teenage years. Since 2007, the rate of suicide deaths among children between the ages of 10 and 14 has doubled, according to federal government data.

“We hope that through increased awareness, education and conversation, those statistics can start trending the other way,” Hipke said.