Your sweet child has had changes in sleep and appetite, doesn’t want to do the things that they normally like, and seems sad or irritable. Could it be childhood depression? If these changes have lasted for over two weeks it may be time to have your kiddo assessed.
Over the last decade we have seen a dramatic increase in childhood and adolescent depression and suicide rates have increased 56% according to the CDC. It’s time for society to take kids mental health seriously. Depression is classified as a brain disease but it is certainly not “all in their heads”. If you suspect that your child is depressed start with an appointment with their doctor. Treatment for depression includes a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
The most important thing that you can do as a parent is to validate your child’s feelings. If they say that they’re sad or tired, start each response with, “I understand that you are sad/tired/etc”. The tricky thing about depression is that the symptoms of depression cause an increase in depression. People are more likely to isolate, stop participating in activities that they enjoy, and focus their thoughts on the things that make them sad, all leading to worsening depression. Language that can be helpful to kids that are struggling with depression are, “it seems like your depression is trying to trick you into thinking you don’t like soccer or hanging out with your best friend anymore.” Try to engage your child in their favorite things, watch a funny movie together, take a walk and get active, make it easy for them to connect with their friends.
One technique for the treatment of depression that is more effective than most of the antidepressants on the market, is gratitude lists. When you sit down to dinner, consider asking everyone the three things that they are most grateful for. These can be anything from a warm home, healthy body, or a new hairstyle. If you can get your family in the habit of practicing gratitude you will help protect each of you from depression. Mental health matters and with your help your child can fully recover from depression.
Skye Boughman, MS, CSAC, LPC, CS-IT, has worked on the front line of the substance use and mental health epidemic in her work as the Executive Director of Stop Heroin Now, a therapist at Open Door Center for Change, the former Director of Drug Poisoning Prevention at Safe Communities, and the former Assistant Director of Connections Counseling. She specializes in working with teens and young adults suffering from opiate dependence, co-occurring mental health disorders and trauma. She was the chair of SCAODA's Ad Hoc Committee on 911 Good Samaritan Legislation, co-produced Straightforward: The Truth About Addiction, and has contributed her own story of recovery to Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope.