By - Ms. Samindara Hardikar-Sawant (Clinical Psychologist)
Depression is a serious mental illness which can also be observed in children. However, it should be treated at right time. Read on to know more about the symptoms and treatments for depression in school going children.
A popular and intelligent student, Prachi always did well in school and was liked by her teachers. However, when she came to class 6, her performance dropped and she slowly started withdrawing from others and did not seem interested in studies. Known for her neatness and meticulous work, she started submitting incomplete and messy worksheets. Gradually, she started isolating herself from her friends, left her tiffin box untouched and seemed lost in her own thoughts...
Prachi was suffering from childhood depression. When told, her parents refused to accept it. How was that possible! Depression? That too Prachi? Sadly, it is possible, and it is the reality for many children like Prachi. Statistics show that about 2-3 % of school going children suffer from clinical depression. Depression is a mental illness characterized by a persistent negative or sad mood and a loss of interest in activities. There are several other symptoms, such as changes in sleep patterns, changes in eating habits, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating and so forth.
How do I recognize signs of depression in my child?
Depression may present itself differently in children than in adults. Children are unable to express their negative feelings verbally, and often, the depression manifests itself in one or more of the following symptom:
- Irritability, sadness
and crying: All children throw tantrums from time to time, all children
are irritable and tearful at times. But check if this is happening more
often than usual and for a number of weeks.
- Lowered academic performance: Typically, depressed students start doing poorly in school. As depression also has repercussions on concentration, memory as well as motivation, grades start falling.
- Loss of interest in activities otherwise enjoyed by the child:
If a child shows disinterest in his or her favorite toys, activities,
games and so forth, for a considerable period of time.
- Withdrawing from friends: Of course, many children are by
nature introverted and prefer to be by themselves. However, if a child
who is otherwise outgoing and sociable suddenly starts staying away
from or avoiding friends, its worth looking into.
- Sleep problems: the child may become restless in his sleep, or
may suddenly wake up at night, or may find it difficult to go to sleep.
- Appetite changes: A depressed child may either lose his appetite, or may start eating more.
- Suicidal thoughts: In extreme cases, the child may start contemplating suicide.
How do I help my depressed child?
Both the family and the school have to work collaboratively in order to help a depressed child. The first step is to get the child assessed. Timely diagnosis and intervention are crucial, as untreated depression can have devastating effects on the child's self esteem, future psychological health as well as, in some cases, the safety of the child. This is where the role of the school psychologist or any other mental health professional becomes important.
Once a child has been diagnosed as suffering from depression, and its severity assessed, a comprehensive treatment plan needs to be charted out. Counseling and supportive psychotherapy can help the child cope with the depression and associated symptoms. Family therapy is also critical, as it helps the family handle the child better, as well helping family members cope with the child's depression. In instances where the depression is particularly severe, medication may become necessary.
Childhood Depression: Some Indicators
Depression is a potentially serious mental illness that can have far reaching and at times devastating effects on our children. So if you notice your child showing signs of depression, if you find your usually bright student suddenly withdrawing into himself, please do bring it to the notice of your school counselor. With timely intervention, depression can be successfully treated.
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