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Coping with Childhood Depression
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

"Sometimes I feel like jumping out of a window or finding some other way to hurt myself," 10-year-old Jason said to his psychiatrist. After Jason became more and more withdrawn and exhibited feelings of self-hatred, his mother took him to a doctor.

Although all children are sad from time to time, there is a significant difference between the normal ups and downs of childhood and the kind of downs experienced by depressed kids. Normal children will feel sad when something goes wrong. But once the incident is over, they're eager to put it behind them. Depressed children, on the other hand, don't bounce back. They can't shake their sadness, and it begins to interfere with their activities, and their functioning in general.

The recognition that children can suffer from depression represents an astonishing about-face in the psychiatric community. Indeed, until 1980, there was not even an official psychiatric diagnosis of childhood depression. Today, approximately 5 million children and adolescents are thought to suffer from major depression, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Many researchers believe that the figure is closer to 10 percent in children younger than 13.

In children, major depression, a depression serious enough to be referred for treatments, affects boys and girls about equally until the age of 14, when the rate for girls rises dramatically. Children with a family history of depression are two to three times more likely to suffer from the illness.

Childhood depression is not just a passing phase. When a child is caught in the spiral of clinical depression, it's very important that the parents seek professional help as soon as possible.

Parents themselves often have a difficult time recognizing their child's depression. Sometimes they overlook the red flags because they, too, are either depressed or too preoccupied with stresses of their own to notice changes in their child's mood.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, individuals having at least five of the following symptoms on an almost daily basis for at least two weeks would be diagnosed with clinical depression:

*Depressed or irritable mood
*Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
*Significant weight loss or gain
*Insomnia or sleeping too much
*Agitation or sluggishness
*Fatigue or loss of energy
*Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or guilt
*Diminished ability to concentrate
*Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Enormous strides in depression research over the last decade have led experts to determine that there is no single cause. Rather, they cite a combination of three factors: genetics, environment and brain chemistry.

Since depression clearly runs in families, we know that there must be a genetic component to the disease. But heredity is not destiny, since not all children of depressed parents succumb to the illness. Other factors appear to interact with genetics to determine whether a particular child develops depressive illness. These include the child's own temperament, the quality of family life, and the stresses or traumas to which the child is exposed.

Fortunately, there are many ways to treat depression. If your child exhibits symptoms of depression, contact your physicain as soon as possible.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.

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