Your Child and Depression
From the GIC Summer 2004 Newsletter
Depression is not an adults-only disease; it affects children as well. At any given point in time, five percent of children and adolescents suffer from depression, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Fifteen percent of children in the United States experience depression before they reach adulthood.
Although genetics may play a role in depression, other factors frequently trigger depression, such as unhealthy family dynamics, stress, divorce, or the death of a close friend or family member. For children and adolescents, hormonal changes and substance abuse may affect a child's mood, leading to depression. Undiagnosed learning disabilities, which can affect success and confidence in school, can also lead to depression.
Parents should alert to any of the following indicators of depression:
- Lack of interest in social activities, including social isolation
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness, and crying
- Marked changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
- Major drop in school and/or athletic performance
- Persistent boredom, fatigue or lack of energy
- Poor concentration and loss of self-esteem
- Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches, muscle pains, and stomach-aches
- Expressions of suicide or worthlessness
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
If one or more of these symptoms persist in your child, seek help immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential. Children who exhibit symptoms of depression should be referred to a child and adolescent mental health clinician (psychologist or psychiatrist) for evaluation. The clinician will develop a comprehensive treatment plan for your child that may include psychotherapy, ongoing evaluations, and possibly psychiatric medication. Ideally, the psychologist will develop this plan jointly with you and your child.
Antidepressant medication can be effective in conjunction with psychotherapy, by stabilizing the balance of chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help brain cells communicate with other cells. However, be aware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered some of these drug manufacturers to include warnings of a risk of dangerous side effects. Never give a child an adult medication without advice from your child's physician. If your child shows increased anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, impulsivity or suicidal impulses while taking these medications, contact your child's physician immediately. Never discontinue medication without first consulting with your child's physician. For more information on the FDA advisory, see the FDA website.
United Behavioral Health offers numerous articles on their website to help children and parents become better informed about childhood depression symptoms and treatment. All GIC enrollees have access to this resource (access code: 10910). To seek help for your child, contact Beacon Health Strategies (Indemnity Plans and Navigator/Spirit by Tufts Health Plan members) or your Plan.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.