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Children with depression: What parents can do to help

Posted June 28

Wondering what you can do for your child with depression? Here’s what science says are the best ways to help. (Deseret Photo)

Parents will do anything to help their sick child feel better, but when a child suffers from depression, many don’t know how to help.

Many families wonder what they can do for their child with depression. The science of mental health in children has some answers.

Is your child depressed?

The first thing you can do to help a child with depression is to learn the signs and symptoms, such as:

  • An irritable mood
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • A drop in grades or disciplinary problems at school
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Feeling angry or experiencing mood swings
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling sad or crying a lot
  • Lack of interest in friends and activities
  • Loss of energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
Children and adults experience some of these feelings throughout life, so short periods of these changes might be a regular case of the blues. But thoughts of death or suicide, or other symptoms that last for more than two weeks, could be a sign of a depressive disorder.

Types of depression

The two main types of depression are major depression and persistent depressive disorder.

Major depression: This can last for at least two weeks and happen more than once throughout life. Major depression can sometimes be triggered by traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one.

Persistent depressive disorder: This form of depression is less severe but often chronic. It can last for at least two years.

If your child has depression, it’s important to remember that it’s not his or her fault, nor is it yours. People of all ages can suffer from depression, and children have a greater risk of developing the disease if their parents have as well. Research has shown that girls are more likely to develop depression in adolescence.

What you can do

1. Talk to your child

Speak to your child about his or her feelings to see if you can learn more about what may be bothering him or her. Bullying is a common problem in childhood that can cause mental health problems while grief or loss can also trigger depressive symptoms.

Let them know that you’re there to help.

2. Talk to a doctor

There are many different reasons why a child might suffer from depression, so it’s best to speak with a doctor to determine a course of action. Common treatments that are often used in combination include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication for depression
3. Treat thoughts of suicide as an emergency

Suicide has become a leading cause of death among adolescents. If your child has thoughts of killing himself or herself, it should be taken seriously. Treat it as an emergency, and seek medical help.

4. Promote healthy behaviors

Certain habits and behaviors are known to reduce depression and anxiety, such as:

  • A healthy diet
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Exercise
  • Positive relationships
Try to promote these behaviors in your child. Don’t forget to focus on building your relationship as well.

5. Make them feel safe and secure

If your child is a victim of bullying, do everything you can to prevent the situation from continuing, as it could be a major factor in his or her depressive symptoms.

Make you child feel like home is a safe place where people support him or her. Mental illnesses are often misunderstood by others — people outside your family might interpret depressive symptoms or signs of laziness or unnecessary anger. Educate your child and others about the realities of depression as an illness, not a character flaw.

6. Help them learn ways to cope

Physiotherapy is designed to help children cope with their feelings and emotions, but it can be much more effective if the therapy is reinforced at home as well.

Spend time talking to your children about their feelings. When they feel negative toward certain problems, help them see it in a more positive way.

Highlight your child’s strengths and encourage them to be in touch with how they feel and act.

7. Give them resources

No matter how much you care for a child, you can’t always be there to help him or her 100 percent of the time. Do your best to help your children stick to their treatment plan, including any medications or therapeutic treatments your doctor recommends.

Look out for risk factors for suicide and seek help if symptoms get worse.

Beyond that, you should make sure your child has the resources available to help themselves if he or she starts feeling worse. Create a list of people he or she can contact, including a doctor, therapist and your local mental health crisis team.

Kitt Wakeley is a partner at Vizown, a women's treatment center in Oklahoma. He is extremely passionate and determined to help women overcome their addictions and live a clean, wholesome, happy life.

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