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Kids and Depression

For Mental Health Month, Henry Ford child psychologists draw attention to the symptoms and the solutions for depression

Could your child be experiencing depression? The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that about 5 percent of children and teens are depressed at any given point in time. Risk for depression increases as a child gets older; girls are more likely than boys to experience depression.

"Each child is different and depression can manifest in many different ways," says Nikki Sulaica, a Child and Adolescent Psychologist with Henry Ford Health System. "For some children, the shift in mood is gradual, for others it happens rather quickly. Life events, trauma and stressors at school or home can sometimes trigger depression in children."

Nikki Sulaica, Child and Adolescent Psychologist with Henry Ford Health System

Depressed children may withdraw from family and friends. Typical symptoms of childhood depression include: feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, loss of pleasure or interest in things that were once fun, anxiety, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more or less than usual), irritability or anger and a decline in school work.

"Parents may notice their child appears sad or tearful much of the time. Children may express an increase in worries, or, it becomes more difficult to maintain grades," Sulaica said. "Being aware of the warning signs and keeping lines of communication open with their child will increase the likelihood that parents will be able to detect symptoms of depression that their child might be experiencing."

Sulaica adds that a team approach in treating childhood depression is the key to success.

"It is so important for children to feel supported by their loved ones. Incorporating family therapy sessions into the treatment plan ensures that lines of communication between parents and children are open and helpful," Sulaica said.

Henry Ford Health System's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers inpatient as well as outpatient therapy services. Individual, family and parental guidance therapy are available, as well as group therapy for teens and children.

Group therapy sessions focus on a range of issues, from depression and anxiety to developing social skills.

Inpatient psychiatric hospitalization programs are offered through Henry Ford Kingswood Hospital in Ferndale. In addition to individual, family and group therapy, antidepressant medications are sometimes prescribed for children and teens.

"Medications for depression should be considered for any teen or child with moderate to severe depression," said Dr. Kelly Rogalski, Medical Director of Outpatient Pediatric Psychiatry for Henry Ford Health System. "For mild depression, medication is also an option, however, in this case, therapy alone can be considered."

"If a parent suspects that their child is depressed, do not be afraid to ask if they are having suicidal thoughts," Sulaica said. "This will in no way 'put the thought' in a child's mind. Rather, it can be a very helpful way for parents to evaluate the severity of their child's symptoms and get them the help they need."

There is no evidence that death by suicide is increased with antidepressant use, Rogalski said. "There is a warning for increased suicidal thinking on all antidepressants for teens and persons in their 20s. This is less of a risk when medication is combined with therapy."

Sulaica added, "I would like to encourage parents to reach out for help if they are at all concerned that their child might be experiencing signs of depression. Scheduling an initial new patient evaluation with a therapist is a great way to get resources and further investigate any symptoms they might be noticing."

There is hope. "Depression is very treatable, particularly under the care of a good treatment team," Dr. Rogalski said.

If you believe a child or teen may require an evaluation for depression, or need other services, log on to henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD to make an appointment.

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