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Age & Stage
Kids don’t face the same pressures as adults, but the reality is that children can suffer from depression and its effects every bit as much as grown-ups. Keep in mind, however, that children may manifest different symptoms than adults.
“I’m depressed, Linus. I need an encouraging word to cheer me up.” (Snoopy, Come Home, 1972)
“I feel depressed. I know I should be happy, but I’m not.” (A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965)
“I have deep feelings of depression. What can I do about this?” (Peanuts comic, 1959)
In countless comic strips, TV shows and even movies, we’ve all heard Charlie Brown say things like this. He’s often seen baring his soul at Lucy’s makeshift “psychiatry booth.” Lucy’s response is typically something like this: “Snap out of it, Charlie Brown! Five cents, please.”
We laugh at these moments, of course. The Peanuts comics take place in a kids-only world. The only hint we ever get that adults even exist is when we hear that funny muted trumpet “adult voice” somewhere offscreen. So it’s amusing to see Charlie Brown visiting a “psychiatrist” and talking about depression. After all, those are adult concerns!
Or are they? We might be tempted to think that kids can’t experience depression because they don’t face the same pressures as adults: Bills to pay. Deadlines at work. Relationship conflicts. War, scandal, death and mayhem on the nightly news. The challenges of raising kids!
As moms and dads, we endeavor to shield our children from these stressors for as long as possible. Besides, kids are resilient, right? They usually bounce right back from whatever challenges life throws at them … don’t they?
The stark reality is that children can suffer from depression and its effects every bit as much as adults. Clinical depression involves a persistent and usually disruptive disturbance of mood that often affects other parts of the body. Children are not immune to this, although they may manifest symptoms of depression that are different than adults.
Unlike Charlie Brown, your children, especially if they are younger, aren’t likely to simply announce, “I’m depressed.” If a child is experiencing clinical depression, he or she won’t have the emotional maturity to verbalize it. Rather, you will pick up clear signs through his or her behavior. Focus on the Family’s Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care lists the following signals that your child might be depressed:
This does not mean, of course, that all negative attitudes and actions are manifestations of depression. But a component of appropriate parental corrective action should be a willingness to entertain this possibility when a child or adolescent displays an unexpected and persistent disturbance in behavior.
In addition to the behavioral indicators listed above, there are other emotional and physical signs that your child might be experiencing depression.
Emotional indicators include:
Physical indicators might include:
Maybe your child is demonstrating some of these symptoms, and you’re convinced he or she is depressed. You’re probably asking, “Why?” How did this happen?” You may also be beating yourself up for being a failure as a parent.
But go easy on yourself. The factors contributing to depression are varied and complex. Some of them lie completely beyond your control, while others may reveal areas in the life of your family where you might be able to make proactive changes. Here are some of the primary factors contributing to depression in children and adolescents:
By now it should be clear that depression can absolutely impact your kids. It’s something to take seriously. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in 2016, an estimated 3.1 million adolescents (aged 12-17) had at least one major depressive episode. That’s almost 13 percent of the adolescent population.
If you suspect your child is clinically depressed, don’t take the approach that Lucy takes with Charlie Brown and simply encourage him or her to “Get over it!” Here are some ways to love and support your child if he or she is struggling in this area:
Many parents are caught off guard when their child is diagnosed with depression. So keep your eyes open. Don’t obsess over every negative attitude or bad day your child has. But if you start to see patterns or trends that concern you, don’t ignore them, either.
One study revealed that 90 percent of suicidal teens felt like they were not understood by their families. If you suspect there is more going on than typical childhood mood swings or rebellion, don’t respond with indifference or shaming. Get on your child’s level, look him or her in the eye and take time to listen and understand where he or she is coming from.
A doctor will be able to help you rule out physical disorders and clarify whether depression might be contributing to the issues your child is facing.
Find a counselor who shares your values and who specializes in working with young patients. Become involved in the counseling sessions with your child. Family dynamics are often a part of the problem and also the solution when it comes to depression.
While faith and prayer will be incredibly important anchors for you and your child during this process, it’s not a sign of spiritual weakness or compromise to employ medication. Clinical depression cannot be “prayed away.” Antidepressants can normalize neurotransmitter function and are neither addictive nor an “escape from reality.”
Although it’s difficult to talk about, be aware that clinical depression often increases the risk of suicidality, especially among teens. Understand the issue of teen suicide, and if you have any reason to suspect that your child is actively suicidal, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-TALK (8255).
The bottom line is this: You know your child best, and you are in the best position to intervene if you feel he or she is suffering from clinical depression. So be aware, keep your eyes open, be a safe refuge to which your child can turn and, if clinical depression is determined to be part of your family’s journey, know that God has promised to never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). Rest assured that He will walk with you every step of the way.
Copyright © 2018 by Focus on the Family
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