CHILD AND ADOLESCENT DEPRESSION

What is Sadness versus Depression?

It’s not unusual for young people to experience “the blues” occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life. When a young person feels that he or she cannot meet the academic, social, or family expectations of others, they may feel rejected and disappointed. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things “never go their way.” They feel “stressed out” and confused.

Depression is more than just “feeling blue.” Depression is also different from feelings of grief. It does not mean that one is weak. Children and teens with clinical depression cannot simply “snap out of it.” Depression is a health problem that impacts feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and can appear as physical symptoms. Risk-taking behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity, aggressive behaviors, and substance use may occur to avoid feelings of depression.

What Does Depression Look Like?

Warning signs of depression in a child or adolescent include the following. These signs are often present for more than two weeks.

– Persistent sadness and/or anger.
– Feeling worthless.
– Falling behind in school.
– Withdrawing from friends or activities usually enjoyed.
– Low level of energy and fatigue all of the time.
– Talking about self-harm or suicide.
– Overly aggressive behavior.
– Substance abuse.
– Eating and sleeping patterns are disturbed.
– May have physical complaints, but there is no medical reason for the complaints.

How Young People Can Help Themselves

– Try to make new friends. Healthy relationships with peers are central to ones’ self-esteem and provide an important social outlet.
– Participate in sports, job, school activities or hobbies. Staying busy helps one to focus on positive activities rather than negative feelings or behaviors.
– Join organizations that offer programs for young people. Special programs geared to the needs of children and adolescents help develop additional interests.
– Ask a trusted adult for help. When problems are too much to handle alone, children and teens should not be afraid to ask a parent, family member, responsible friend, school teacher, or school counselor for help.

What Parents and Others Can do to Help

– Offer help and listen. Encourage children and teens to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Listen, don’t lecture.
– Trust your instincts. If it seems that the situation may be serious, seek prompt help.
– Pay attention to talk about suicide. Ask direct questions and don’t be afraid of frank discussions. Silence can be deadly! If you have serious concerns about this, call Child and Adolescent Services at 239-6344 during working hours or take your child to the Emergency Ward at King Edward Memorial Hospital after-hours.
– Seek professional help. Alert key adults in the child’s or teen’s life — family, friends, teachers, school counselors, and pediatricians or family doctors. These individuals can help to determine if the child or teen requires assessment and treatment by a mental health professional.

Dr. Sandy De Silva completed her postgraduate training in the U.S.A. and has been with Bermuda Hospitals Board for 2 years. She is employed as a clinical psychologist working with young people between the ages of 4 and 18 years old at Child and Adolescent Services.

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