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  1. What is depression?
  2. Signs and symptoms of depression.
  3. Treating depression.
  4. Resources.

What is depression?

Life is full of emotional ups and downs and everyone experiences the “blues” from time to time. But when the “down” times are long lasting or interfere with a person’s ability to function at home or at work, that person may be suffering from a common but serious illness – depression. Not only adults become depressed. Children and teenagers can also suffer from depression.

Depression is a “whole-body” illness, involving your body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself and others, and the way you feel and think about everything. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.

About 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression at any given point in time. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attention, learning, conduct or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

The behaviour of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behaviour of depressed adults. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise parents to be aware of signs of depression in their youngsters.

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • frequent sadness, tearfulness or crying
  • decreased interest in activities or an inability to enjoy previously enjoyed activities
  • hopelessness
  • persistent boredom
  • low energy levels
  • social isolation
  • poor communication
  • low self-esteem and guilt
  • extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • difficulty with relationships
  • frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomach aches
  • frequent absences from school
  • poor performance in school
  • poor concentration
  • a change in eating patterns
  • a change in sleeping patterns
  • talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behaviour
  • substance abuse in an attempt to feel better
  • rebellious or troublesome behaviour

If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help

Treating depression

Depression is a real illness that requires professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for helping depressed children. Comprehensive treatment often includes both individual and family therapy. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) are forms of individual therapy shown to be effective in treating depression. Treatment may also include the use of antidepressant medication. Medication needs to be taken as directed, and can take at least two weeks to work. Medication should also be used in combination with a healthy eating plan and physical activity. For help, parents should ask their health care worker to refer them to a qualified mental health professional who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.

Remember that there is still a lot of stigma around any mental health problem and this may make you or your child resistant to getting help, or make it hard to get help.

Without treatment, depression can impact on a child’s

  • Sense of self and self-esteem
  • Relationships with family and friends
  • School performance
  • Ability to make decisions
  • Participation in recreational activities
  • Untreated, it impacts on the child’s present and on their future.


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