Overcoming Childhood Depression
Depression and suicide are not exclusively adult problems. Only recently has there been a growing awareness that children and adolescents suffer from depression and attempt suicide. It is essential that depression in children be promptly recognized and treated. If we understand the depressive syndrome and become familiar with its symptoms, we will be better able to help young people who are suffering from the illness toward more promising futures.
- Children do not get depressed… Fact: It is estimated that as many as eight percent of children are significantly depressed.
- Children do not kill themselves… Fact: In 1985, 278 children under fifteen and 5,121 adolescents killed themselves.
- Childhood is a special time without cares or worries… Fact: Children experience stress, anxiety, and emotional upset to a similar degree as adults.
- Depression in children is a phase that will go away in time… Fact: If depression is untreated, it will tend to recur repeatedly throughout a person’s life, leading to drug abuse, behavioral problems, and suicide.
- Talking about suicide is just an attempt to get attention… Fact: If a child threatens suicide, he or she is depressed and knows of no other way to get help.
What To Do If Your Child Is Depressed
- Discuss feelings of sadness openly: According to Charles E. Schaeffer, Ph.D., many adults avoid confronting children for fear of making their negative feelings worse. “Instead, taking children seriously and listening empathetically has a beneficial effect. Telling children that anger and depression are temporary is often a reassuring experience for children.” Encourage your child to express all of her feelings. The urge to cry should not be stifled. Don’t teach your child to hide or cover up her grief as quickly as possible. Talk about how it feels to be separated from departed or deceased loved ones.
- Teach positive self-talk: If you notice your child saying things like, “Things will never get better,” “I never do anything right,” or “I won’t ever be happy,” you need to tell her that making negative statements will make things worse. Tell her that she will feel better if she says positive things to herself. Helpful comments include, “Things will work out,” “Today is a new day,” “Helping others makes me feel good,” etc.
- Seek additional help: If your child’s depression does not seem to be lifting, do not hesitate to get the assistance of a mental health professional. Be careful to choose a specialist who is trained in diagnosing and treating emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents. The more training and experience the professional has with children and adolescents, the better.
Muse, N. J., Ph.D. (1990). Depression and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed.
Schaeffer, C. E., Ph.D. and H. L. Millman, Ph.D. (1981). How To Help Children with Common Problems. New York: Litton Educational Publishing.