Dear Dr. Robyn,
I’m worried that my daughter is depressed. She always loved to go to her classes and right now she doesn’t want to do much of anything. I’ve had her teachers talk to her and she just seems lethargic. She’s always been one to talk about commitment and other “Powerful Words” like perseverance and goal-setting. I don’t know what happened. She doesn’t seem happy at all and whenever I ask her about it she tells me she doesn’t know why she’s sad. What should I do?
–Shawna P, Massachusetts
It might surprise you that the diagnosis of depression has been becoming more frequent among young people. Teen Depression.org states that as many as 1 in 33 children and 1 in 8 teens may have depression. They also are experiencing more and more stress which can lead to feelings of frustration and sadness.
There are two kinds of depression.Depending on what the source of depression is, will help you to determine what to do:
If your child has situational depression, it means that she is sad for a reason. Examples of reasons would be: a fight with her best friend, a bad grade at school, or problems with parents can cause her to feel sad or hurt. These feelings usually go away in minutes, hours, or days.
On the other hand, clinical depression, is when a traumatic event or the chemical makeup of the brain causes prolonged feelings of sadness, worthlessness, irritability, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, or even thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Events that can be a source of depression for your child might be: being a victim of a violent crime or watching one occur, parents divorcing or someone stable in your daughter’s life has left, the death of a family member, or recurring bullying at school.
In other cases, clinical depression seems to have no reason at all—it’s caused by the imbalance of the chemicals that run through your child’s brain. This type of depression is often passed down genetically through families.
- Persistent sad or irritable mood
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Significant change in appetite or body weight
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Loss of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
On of the big problems with clinical depression and preteens or teens is that many adults regard the signs of depression as typical mood swings. After all, many preteens and teens are moody! Parents might regard the signs as a phase and doctors might not want to prematurely label a child who may simply be going through a developmental stage. But parents are important in the fight against depression. You have to listen to your gut– early diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression are very important to healthy social and emotional development as well as to performance in school and friendship relations.
Continue to encourage your child to go out with friends, get exercise, eat a healthy diet, and do all the things she loves– surround her with positive, supportive people like those she loves at her Powerful Words member school. Of course, many children need much more so…
If you think your child may be suffering from clinical depression, it’s important to get help for her. Clinical depression doesn’t just “go away.” Talk to your child and be honest with your concerns. You can then take her to a doctor so she can get help. Her doctor can discuss a course of action and a treatment plan that may include therapy and/or medication.
There is no shame in getting help!