Childhood Depression and Antidepressants
Do you think your tween or teen is struggling with major depression? Here, parents can learn about medication and therapy options, risks, warning signs and tips for running intervention.
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If a child engages in any warning signs once on medication – like suicidal thoughts, self-harm, panic attacks, hostility or other behavior – the child should be taken in for an appointment with a mental health professional as soon as possible.
And a parent should never discontinue an antidepressant medication without first speaking with the child's physician or mental health counselor – because abruptly stopping medications can cause withdrawal effects or a relapse.
Going it alone
Even if a parent ultimately decides to go without antidepressants, it's important that depressive symptoms not go unchecked, says Rosenberg.
"We know that depression can be a lethal condition for anyone, and this is especially true for children," he says. "Getting a child into a treatment program is a necessary step in helping a child cope."
Because children who are depressed are also going through the same challenges as unaffected children, it can be difficult for a depressed child to develop a healthy level of self-esteem at home and at school.
Michalopoulou says solutions exist for children and their families.
"A combination of medication and therapy – as well as monitoring – should produce a good result," she says. "But no matter what type of treatment takes place, it's important for parents to act."
Signs and symptoms
Moody behavior and sullenness are often considered hallmarks of tween and teen years. But when these feelings are prolonged and more intense than usual, it may be time to take your son or daughter to see a mental health professional.
Here are some important signals to watch for if you suspect your child is experiencing a shift from normal sadness into major depression.
Emotional and behavioral
- Intense anger over trivial matters: Overreacts to an event or perceives comments and actions to be slights or criticisms.
- Poor grades: Shows a sudden shift in his or her interest in subjects that were once enjoyed – or a sudden drop in academic performance.
- Lack of interest in hobbies, friends: Stops engaging in activities and stops socializing with friends.
- Anxiety: Is nervous, upset, anxious or panicked over small issues, or for no reason.
- Feelings of hopelessness, negativity: Obsesses over real or perceived faults, pessimism or the inability to see himself or others in a positive light.
- Lack of focus: Loses concentration at school and at home.
- Inability to connect emotionally: Suddenly can't seem to talk about his or her problems openly.
- Suicidal thoughts: Expresses thoughts of death.
- Changes in appetite: Is eating significantly more, or less, than usual.
- Sleep disturbances: Can't get to sleep or wakes up frequently during the night. Sleeping too much, or not being able to wake up, is also a sign of depression.
- Sluggishness: Participates in fewer physical activities, moving slowly, delayed or minimal reaction to stimuli.
- Self-injury: Any activity that causes physical harm to a child's body, such as cutting, or taking risks that could result in injury.
Butt out, or in?
Children – especially tweens and teens – fiercely guard their privacy. And for the most part, parents try to respect their children's need for autonomy.
But when a parent suspects their son or daughter is suffering from depression – a condition which can be lethal – moms and dads need to set the potential for accusations of spying aside and intervene, says Rosenberg with WSU.
"When it comes to depression, I wouldn't worry about that," he says. "Depression is a condition that can't be ignored, and once a child is in treatment, he or she will understand your decision."
Depressed children and teens are need of an immediate intervention, and the consequences of not acting can be tragic. According to a 2007 study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Suicide was also the third-leading cause of death among young people ages 14 to 25, according to the study.
Luckily, hacking into your child's Facebook page isn't required to get information you need to make decisions about your kid's emotional health, says Michalopoulou of Children's Hospital of Michigan.
"The most important thing for parents is to ask questions," she says. "Ask the child how they're feeling or how things are going at school. They may not want to talk about it at first, but they need to know that a parent is concerned about them and their well-being."
Though it's common for kids to push back, it's a parent's role to set boundaries and rules for children. And parents need to do whatever they can to get between a child and depression, says Rosenberg.
"The worst thing a parent can do is nothing," he says. "It's not the time to worry about being intrusive."