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Spring 2008

Recognize Depression in Children and Seek Help

Depression affects about 5 percent of children and adolescents and is treatable

Depression in children and adolescents is one of the more common forms of mental disorder in youngsters. Among school-age youngsters, a relatively equal number of boys and girls experience depression, explains UCLA child and adolescent psychiatrist James T. McCracken, M.D. But in the teenage years, the frequency of severe depression in girls “skyrockets”; by age 17 or 18, the incidence of depression in girls is nearly twice that of boys, he says.

Recognize depression in children and seek helpChildren who are under stress, who experience loss or who have attention, learning, conduct or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. If parents suspect their child is depressed, they should talk to the child and express support and understanding. “A heartto- heart discussion is the best place to start to try to identify what is going on,” Dr. McCracken says.

If symptoms persist, particularly if they are dangerous or seriously interfere with the child’s life, parents should seek help, either from their pediatrician—“Most are familiar with identifying the core signs and symptoms of depression,” Dr. McCracken says—or from a mentalhealth professional. Untreated depression can persist for years and be a devastating illness, leading to self-destructive behaviors. Expressions of suicidal thoughts or other self-destructive behavior should be taken seriously and parents should seek immediate help.

Depression can be treated, with the best outcomes resulting from appropriate forms of psychotherapy in combination with medication. While there have been reports that use of some antidepressant medications to treat depression in children and adolescents led to increases in suicidal thoughts and self-destructive behaviors, Dr. McCracken asserts that these reactions are uncommon, and with careful monitoring the medications can be used safely.

Signs of depression include:

  • Frequent sadness
  • Social isolation and/or difficulty with relationships
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased irritability, anger or hostility
  • Poor concentration
  • Persistent boredom
  • Declining performance in school
  • A major change in eating or sleeping patterns

 





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