Adults tend to believe that a child’s world is always full of sunshine and clear weather and that a child cannot feel depressed. This is not true as children do get depressed. Just as adults, treatment for depression in children is critical in order to prevent any form of tragedy. The unfortunate thing about depression in children is that the signs and symptoms can sometimes be masked or mistaken for normal emotional outbursts that accompanied growth.
According to studies done, an estimated 2% of young children and 4%-8% of adolescents suffer from depression. The rate of depression for teenager is higher - 1 in 10 kids will develop depression by age 16 according to a research done.
Depression can and will have a negative long lasting effects for children. It can contribute to set backs in a child’s social life, emotional growth, performance in school and even substance abuse. If depression is not treated, the effects of a 9 -12 months depressive episode can easily cause a child to fail in school and affect their educational journey. To make things worse, children who are depressed also have a higher risk of committing suicide. In fact, suicide cases of children age 10-19 in 2015 was 27 cases – that means an average of more than 2 teenagers commit suicide every month in Singapore.
Children who suffer depression might also struggle when they become an adult. As shown in a research, adults who were diagnosed with depression in their childhood in general do not do as well as those who are not depressed. They are also found to have low self-esteem which leads to a myriad of problems such as inability to complete university, habitual unemployment, lower average income and social problems in their work and family. All these problems tend to contribute to the higher suicide rate of adults who were diagnosed with depression in their childhood is higher than those who are not.
How can we recognise the depressive symptoms and help our children to overcome this problem and potentially avert all pitfalls in their lives? There are many symptoms which we can look out for in a depressive child and parents need to be alert to any major or disruptive changes in the lives of their children that can potentially cause depressive moods in their children. One important source of comfort for a mentally healthy child is a loving family to nurture them. Therefore, it is especially traumatic for children whose parents are going through a divorce. If you are going through a divorce now, how can you check if your children are depressed?
Irritability or anger
Children who are depressed might express irritability or anger at their parents over little things which they previously will not react negatively to. This is especially true for the parent whom the child deems as the one at fault for the divorce.
Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
If your children are depressed, they might express continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness. This can be expressed as a general sense of their lives as they knew it has come to an end because of the divorce. As a parent, it is important for you to spend time with your children so that you can detect these moods and feelings. If you noticed such feelings, monitor them for about 2 weeks to see if the feelings go away. If it doesn’t, you might want to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist about it.
Children who are depressed will withdraw socially from any form of activities. This can be easily noticed by their behaviours and attitudes towards school, their friends and the general willingness to interact with their parents.
Increased Sensitivity to Rejection
Children can be sensitive to rejection, especially in their teenage years. However, in depressive children, their sensitivity towards rejection is sky high and it takes really very little to create a meltdown along the line of “You do not love me anymore” drama, especially if the rejection comes from the separated parent in the divorce.
Changes in Appetite
Increase or decrease in appetite can signal that the child is depressive. If this happens during highly stressful periods during the divorce proceedings, you might want to monitor the behaviour and see if it prolongs into weeks.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Sleeplessness or excessive sleep in children can also signal that they are depressed. Be sure to keep a close eye on your children during any period of extreme stress such as going through the child custody trial or the initial separation of the family. If they show changes in sleep patterns, do pay more attention to them.
Vocal Outburst or Crying
Children who have high instants of vocal outburst or crying for no reasons need tender loving care from their parents, whether or not the parents are going through a divorce. This is a very straightforward sign of depression if it goes on for more than 2 weeks
Difficulties in Concentrating
Children who have difficulties in concentrating in their daily lives can also be depressive. This can be evident in their school work and the way they concentrate in school. Parents who notice that their children are constantly in their own world or staring blankly into space need to monitor their children for depression.
Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt
This is quite evident in children who are depressed because of a major change in their lives, such as a divorce. Children who are depressed might believe in flawed logic that they are the cause of the divorce, leading to feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Parents who noticed this in their children must set the record straight frequently so that these feelings can be slowly eased from their children.
Thoughts of death or suicide
This is the most important point that parents need to take note. Depressed children might express their desire to die or to speak of suicide. Do not take these words lightly. Spend more time with them and bring them for treatment before tragedy strikes.