Knowing the Difference
Mental health professionals are diagnosing depression more often than they did in the past. This does not necessarily mean that more children are depressed, though. Likely, it means that there is a better understanding of how depression presents in children versus adults.
Many mental illnesses can mask or confuse symptoms of depression in children. These include:
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Adjustment disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Borderline personality disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Along the way, it is important to note that depression is often ¬is accompanied by the above disorders, which makes diagnosis and treatment more challenging. If your child’s symptoms do not seem to fit into an expected view of depression, it could be that there is a combination of mental health issues at play.
Causes of Depression in Children
Parents always want to know how their child developed depression. The truth is that there is no definitive answer. Since the beginning of studies on depression, researchers have searched for the source of symptoms. Some believe that genetics is the cause while others think environment creates depression. This debate is known as “Nature versus Nurture.”
There is good evidence that people with a family history of mental illness like depression are more likely to have depression themselves. This supports the nature side of the argument. On the other hand, people with depression can come from families without any mental health problems at all. These people’s symptoms may have been triggered by environmental cues like a poor childhood, a traumatic event, a head injury, bullying in school, depression after a move, or another negative experience.
Rather than nature versus nurture, consider nature AND nurture as the explanation. Each person is born with a certain predisposition to mental illness. If the level of predisposition is high very few environmental triggers need to occur for the depression to breakout. If the predisposition is low, high levels of negative environmental events must occur. Unfortunately, there is no way to measure the amount of predisposition.
For children and adolescents, treatment options are plentiful. Consider the following:
- Outpatient therapy – Outpatient therapy is the first line of treatment to seek if depression seems like a concern for your child. A therapist can assess, diagnosis and treat your child by identifying faulty thinking patterns while boosting self-esteem and encouraging better eating, sleeping and exercise habits.
- Home-based/ family therapy – Many mental health agencies offer in-home family-based treatment to work towards improving the child’s symptoms by addressing issues that exist throughout the family. This treatment is not interested in finding blame within the home. It is only interested in finding systems that support depression and working to change them. In-home therapy is usually more intense, but it can be highly beneficial.
- Medication management – There is some amount of fear in the population when starting a child on medication for depression. For some, the medications will increase risk of suicide though there is much debate regarding how this happens. Consulting with a prescriber will be invaluable since the decision to begin must be mutual. Remember, there is risk in starting medication and there is risk in not starting medication. In either case, take appropriate precautions to protect your child.
- Social skills training – Group therapy sessions can be a great fit for children with depression. Depression can seem quite isolating and lonely. Having your child gain the understanding that other people their age think, feel and behave in similar ways as them can be encouraging. The group can assist each member in finding new strategies and methods to improving their symptoms.
Depression in childhood may seem like a completely different beast than depression in adults. Similarities do exist, though. Do your best to research, understand and seek appropriate treatment for your child with depression.
Treatments do work and help kids every day. One thing to remember is that depression usually gets worse without treatment. Being active and preventive is the best approach. Start today.