Dear Dr. Robyn: I think my child’s depressed

depression teenDr. Robyn Silverman

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

Dear Shawna,

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.

Symptoms of depression:

  • 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!

Best regards,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs


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Girls Feel Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says

Girls Feel Anxiety about Pressure to Fast-Track Their Development

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Between the magazine articles telling girls to lose weight, glossies telling her that she’ll never measure up , young celebrities withering away along with their clothes, models getting thinner and thinner, and the massive pressures in school and among friends to look the best, a generation of girls are being affected. Poor body image, poor body esteem, mental health issues, and low self worth abound.

Negative messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner and sexier than ever before. Some, you just have to wonder, are the retailers kidding?

So who could be surprised that girls are showing some wear and tear from today’s sexualized, body-bashing culture? A recent study out of the UK reveals that the pressure to grow up too soon is one the greatest influences on girls’ well being, according to the girls themselves! The pressure to wear clothes that make them look older, entertain sexual advances from boys, lose weight according to the directions in the media, and even consider plastic surgery to “improve looks” were identified as pressures that were particularly damaging.

One participant explained: “When I was eleven I read a teenage magazine for the first time and that is when it kind of clicked, ‘I should be like this.’”

Here’s the scoop:

Who was studied? Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Qualitative (descriptive) information was collected through focus groups consisting of 54 girls, divided by age. Quantitative (the numbers and percents) data were collected through polls online, in which 350 girls participated.

By Whom: Girlguiding UK, the Mental Health Foundation, and leading researchers Opinion Leader.

What was studied? The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualization, commercialization and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behavior at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.

What did they find?

§ Mental Health Issues: Many girls reported that they had direct experience with friends and people who they knew who were suffering from some kind of mental health problem.

o Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed

o One third of the girls have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder

o Half new girls who were suffering from depression

o Almost two in five had friends who had experienced panic attacks.

o Many girls felt strongly that self-harm was within the spectrum of normal teenage behavior – as long as it happened infrequently– and was not necessarily an indication of a mental health issue.

o A sixth of those surveyed often feel angry

o Half admit they find anger hard to manage.

o Around a quarter often worry (28%) and feel like no-one understands them (25%) while around half find both emotions hard to handle.

§ Gotta Have It! Increased pressure to have money for the latest electronics and clothes means pressure for the girls.

o One-in-five girls report feeling anger and sadness

o A quarter of the girls feel worried or bad about themselves.

§ Fodder for Bullies? Girls felt that the growing check-list of “ideals” for young girls was giving bullies additional excuses to single them out – leading to stress, unhappiness and anxiety.

As one girl admitted: “If I get bored then I start becoming really aggressive.”

§ Is my body OK? Media is a major culprit.

o Looking at pictures of models, pop-stars and actresses makes a fifth feel sad, two-fifths feel bad about themselves and 12 per cent feel angry.

o Media stories that portray young people in a bad light make half the girls who took part angry (50 per cent), a quarter worried (23 per cent) and almost two-fifths sad.

· Read the full study: A Generation Under Stress

Study after study is showing that girls are under stress…and duress in their normal, everyday lives. Yet, our culture continues to churn out manufactured, thinned-out celebrities, sexualized play-things, inappropriate clothes, and media to deliver the 1-2 punch.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we provide our girls with positive role models, positive body messages, and positive activities and powerful environments that show them they are so much more than a 2-dimensional object there to be critiqued, criticized, and put-down.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Any ideas with regard to what to do next? Yes, we need these girls to have a pivotal moment when they know they’re worthwhile—but even more than that—we need to promote positive development in these girls from the start so that this problem is markedly reduced in the first place. Otherwise, we are simply averting our eyes…aren’t we? I mean, how bad does it have to get before we pay attention?

Here’s to Making Our Girls Feel and Become Powerful–