Friday, October 16, 2015

What Adults Need to Know about Pediatric Depression By Deborah Serani

Research shows that children, even babies, experience depression. The clinical term is called Pediatric Depression, and rates are higher now than ever before. In the United States alone, evidence suggests that up to 1% of babies, 4 percent of preschool-aged children, 5 percent of school-aged children, and 11 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression. According to American Association of Suicidology, Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in adolescents ages 15 to 24, and is the 6th leading cause of death in children ages 5 to14. Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early diagnosis and treatment of Pediatric Depression is not just extremely important – it is life-saving. The fields of neurology, psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics started tracking symptoms of longing, sadness and anxiety in children, which helped launch the official discipline of child psychiatry in 1920. Many pioneers like Melanie Klein, John Bowlby, Anna Freud, D.W. Winnicott, Rene Spitz, and Erick Erickson broadened the field of child depression, detailing theories on trauma, despair and melancholic reactions in children. But it would take almost a century more for science to truly root itself in the belief that children could, without a doubt, have depression. The 21st century showed a rapid growth of clinical interest in mood disorders in children, influenced by advances in medical technology and the field of neurobiology joining forces with psychology and psychiatry. Evidenced based research studies started streaming in, each one validating aspects of pediatric depression, its symptoms, etiology and methods of treatment. Scientists agreed that though children had immature and underdeveloped affective (emotional) and cognitive (thinking) skills, depression was something they can experience. Children have mood changes, are capable of having negative thoughts, and tend to show depressive symptoms in more behavioral ways. Examples like joyless facial responses, listless body posture, unresponsive eye gaze, slowed physical reactions and irritable or fussy mannerisms, just to name a few. Not only did studies confirm the existence of Pediatric Depression, but distinctive symptoms were seen in differing stages of childhood. These results widened the scope of understanding depression in children, and helped highlight that patterns of depression vary with a child’s age. So, the history of Pediatric Depression began with a steadfast “No way it could ever be” to a more thoughtful “Oh yes it can,” to a postmodern “and it’s intricately unique.”

Facts Every Adult Should Know

1. Myth: Depression looks the same in children as it does in adults.
False. Children don’t have the verbal language or cognitive savvy to express the textures of depression. Instead, body symptoms like aches and pains, fatigue, and slowness present as can tearfulness, unrealistic feelings of guilt, isolation and irritability.
3. Myth: Pediatric Depression will go away on its own.
False: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away or brushed aside with a change in attitude. Ignoring the problem doesn’t give it the slip either. Depression is a serious, but treatable illness, with a success rate of upwards of 80% for children who receive intervention.
5. Myth: The risk of suicide for children is greatly exaggerated.
False. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in adolescents ages 15 to 24, and is the 6th leading cause of death in children ages 5 to14. Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early diagnosis and treatment of Pediatric Depression is extremely important.
6. Myth: There are no proven treatments to treat Pediatric Depression.
False. Volumes of studies show that talk therapy treatments like play therapy, family therapy, and individual therapy offer significant improvements for children who experience depression. Upwards of 80% of children who receive treatment move into remission. The other 20% may require medication to help with their illness – and, though this is often a hot topic for controversy, there are evidenced-based studies that support this as a treatment option.
7. Myth: Antidepressants will change a child’s personality.
False. Antidepressants normalize the ranges of moods in children who have a mood disorder – and will not change your child’s personality what-so-ever.
9. Myth: When a depressed child refuses help, there’s nothing parents can do.
False. If your child refuses to go to talk therapy or take medication, there are things you can do. You can seek therapy with a trained mental health specialist to learn how to help your child in spite of the fact that he won’t attend sessions. In a crisis situation, you can drive your child to the nearest hospital emergency room, or contact family, friends or the local police for assistance in getting him there.
10. Myth: Seriously depressed children CANNOT lead productive lives.
False: Many children with depression can grow up to live full, productive lives. In fact, many high profile people, including President Abraham Lincoln, Writer J.K. Rowlings, Artist Michelangelo, Actor Harrison Ford, Choreographer Alvin Ailey, Actress Courteney Cox, Entrepreneur Richard Branson, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Rocker Bruce Springsteen and Baseballer Ken Griffey, Jr. have been very successful in their chosen professions – despite struggling with depression in their young lives. If you suspect that a child is struggling with depression, immediately contact a physician. Share your concerns and plan for a full medical evaluation to begin this diagnostic process. Once medical tests show no other reason for the fatigue, sadness, aches and pains that often come with depression, a mental health professional will evaluate further for this pediatric mood disorder.
Pediatric Depression is a serious, but treatable disorder. And there is great hope for healing when detected early. Scientific American Photo