Depression In Children & Adolescents
By Dr Linda Semlitz,
Senior Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
Adam Road Hospital, 19 Adam Road, Singapore 289891
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Not only adults become depressed. Children and teenagers may also have depression. Depression is defined as an illness when the depressive condition persists. Depression also interferes with the way children and teenagers function at school, at home and socially.

Significant depression probably exists in about 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have disorders of attention, learning or behaviour are at higher risk for depression.

The behaviour of depressed children and teenagers differs from the behaviour of depressed adults. Child & adolescent psychiatrists advise parents to be aware of things in their youngsters such as:

  • persistent sadness

  • an irritability to enjoy previously favourite activities

  • increased activity or irritability

  • frequent complaints of physical illness such as headaches and stomachaches

  • frequent absences from school or poor performance in school

  • persistent boredom, low energy, poor concentration or

  • a major change in eating and/or sleeping habits

A child who used to play often with friends may now spend most of the time alone and without interests. Things that were once fun now bring little joy to the depressed child. Children who are depressed may seem more irritable or complain of boredom as opposed to sadness. They may say they want to be dead or may talk about suicide. Depressed teenagers may abuse alcohol or other drugs as a way to feel better.

Depressed youngsters engage in fewer pleasant activities. They often have trouble with academic achievement and motivation. Their thinking may be negativistic and pessimistic with thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness. These children may have low self-esteem and make self deprecating statements. They overreact emotionally with negative thoughts and blame themselves for perceived failures. They experience increased stressful events as well as increased interpersonal conflicts. It is becoming increasingly clear that these difficulties are risk factors for depression and therefore should be closely monitored.

Children and adolescents who cause trouble at home or at school may actually be depressed but not know it. Because the youngster may not always seem sad. Parents and teachers may not realise the troublesome behaviour is a sign of depression. When asked directly, these children can sometimes state that they are unhappy or sad. Depression is a high risk factor for suicide in young people.

Both depression and suicidal feelings are treatable disorders. Early diagnosis and medical treatment are essential for depressed youngsters. For help, parents should ask their physician to refer them to a child and adolescent psychiatrist, who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.

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