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Depression in Children
Only in the past two decades has depression in children been taken very seriously.
The depressed child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to
a parent, or worry that the parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into
trouble at school, be negative, grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Because normal
behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell
whether a child is just going through a temporary "phase" or is suffering
from depression. Sometimes the parents become worried about how the child's
behavior has changed, or a teacher mentions that "Johnny doesn't seem to
be himself." In such a case, if a visit to the child's pediatrician rules
out physical symptoms, the doctor will probably suggest that the child be evaluated,
preferably by a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of children. If
treatment is needed, the doctor may suggest that another therapist, a social
worker or a psychologist, provide therapy while the psychiatrist will oversee
medication if it is needed.
Parents should not be afraid to ask these questions:
- What are the therapist's qualifications?
- What kind of therapy will the child have?
- Will the family as a whole participate in therapy?
- Will my child's therapy include an antidepressant?
- If so, what might the side effects be?
Large-scale research studies have reported that up to 2.5 percent of children
and up to 8.3 percent of adolescents in the United States suffer from depression.
In addition, research has discovered that depression onset is occurring earlier
in individuals born in more recent decades. There is evidence that depression
emerging early in life often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood,
and that early onset depression may predict more severe illness in adult life.
Diagnosing and treating children and adolescents with depression is critical
to prevent impairment in academic, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning
and to allow children to live up to their full potential.
Depression in children and adolescents is associated with an increased risk
of suicidal behaviors. Over the last several decades, the suicide
rate in young people has increased dramatically. In 1996, the
most recent year for which statistics are available, suicide was
the third leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds and the fourth
leading cause among 10-14 year olds. Early diagnosis and treatment
of depression and other mental disorders, and accurate evaluation
of suicidal thinking, possibly hold the greatest suicide prevention
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