Back in the 60s and 70s, depression in children did not receive a good deal of attention among the medical and psychiatric communities. There was a good deal of emphasis placed on the diagnosis of ADHD and it seemed that the “magic pill” was Ritalin. I can remember the onslaught of diagnoses made during those periods and pediatricians prescribing the drug with abandon. The major concern was the abhorrent behavior of children which parents and school personnel wanted to be curbed.
Depression in children did not seem to become a diagnostic problem until the next century. Now, the age of onset has been assessed at nine years of age or younger, though the adolescent stage of development tends to be a more common age group deserving of the diagnosis. It should be remembered that moody and sensitive kids are just that, moody and sensitive kids. Sadness in any human being, no matter what the age, is triggered by a particular situation and is unlikely to be a diagnosable depressive reaction. Of course, this statement can be made provided that the child adjusts to the situation and is able to move on.
The symptoms in children are the same as those found in adults: loss of appetite and energy, irritability, difficulty sleeping, feelings of worthlessness and an inability experience a sense of enjoyment. Thoughts of suicide, of course, are also a sign of diagnosable depression. Cognitive therapy can help children reframe their feelings and change the perspective that are inducing the depressive state. Although they have found that drugs can be used as an adjunct to treatment, what has been found upon administering these drugs is that suicidal thoughts have been associated with their usage. This is very interesting in that depression itself carries its own suicide risks so that the administration of medication must be made very carefully.
Depression is a very difficult diagnosis to make except by a qualified mental health professional. With the advent of some of the reported suicide attempts and actual suicides and that have been reported for those children and adolescents who have been placed on anti-depressant medications, my concern is that medical personnel that are not familiar with the official diagnosis might bring the return of the “Ritalin era.”
My recommendation for parents who are concerned about whether their child is experiencing a depressive reaction is to be very sure that they consult with a mental health professional who can assess the problem and make appropriate recommendations as to the best course of action. With any decision that might be made, it is important to note that children have a remarkable ability to adapt to difficult and even traumatic situations. Rushing to judgment as to the administration of drugs can prevent that adaptation from being realized and the label ascribed being one that a child can carry forever.
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.