BOD Post Card 9 web klein

Some moments of sadness, moodiness and even feelings of helplessness are as common for children, especially for adolescents, as they are for adults. But when should a parent or adult who cares for young people start to be concerned?

 We all know that these feelings play an important part in everyday life, in fact they can often lead to the drive we need to move on and cope with the ups and downs of life better. However, there is a darker side to experiencing feelings of negativity including rejection, anxiety, worthlessness or hopelessness, especially if these feelings persist or carry on for more than a few weeks. This may be an indicator that a person is suffering from depression.

Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how we feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, socialising and working or studying. Children, adolescents and adults who are depressed often do not know why they feel the way they do. This can make diagnosis challenging because they can learn to hide their symptoms by pretending to be ‘ok’ in public. This is not so unusual for teenagers and adults because they find that after a while their symptoms like sadness, moodiness, pessimism and general lack of worthiness are generally not socially acceptable. For fear of further rejection they might ‘mask’ these feelings or gravitate towards groups who are more understanding but not necessarily in a healthy way.

As parents and adults who care for young people we need to be aware of the symptoms of depression because this is not a passing mood or phase and it is not a condition that will go away without proper treatment. For depression to be diagnosed, the signs and symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. These not only include the negative feelings we have discussed but also may include changes in appetite, sleep cycles, vocal outbursts or persistent crying, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, physical symptoms like stomach or headaches (with no obvious cause) or suicidal thoughts.

If your child, or a child in your care, appears to be suffering from any of these symptoms persistently, then it is important that they see a paediatrician or family doctor as soon as possible. Seeking help can be a difficult step for the child and their parent because there is often some stigma still in admitting that they might be struggling with a mental health problem. Before taking this step, it is important to take the time to talk and actively listen to the child. To do this you need to find some time when you won’t be interrupted to speak about your concerns. Let the child or adolescent talk openly and try not to interrupt. If there are silences between words, as there often are when people are depressed, try to sit with them and show your acceptance of how they are really feeling. It may take a little while to drop the ‘mask’ even with parents. Do not take this personally it is normal. The more open you are to accepting how they are feeling, the more they will be able to share. If this is too difficult maybe suggest that the child can share their feelings with another trusted adult or health care professional. With proper diagnosis and support, which may include counselling and medication, depression can be successfully treated. As parents of children or adolescents suffering from depression it is also important that you get support .

Children, youths and their parents can also contact the Online Help Service at . This is free, confidential and anonymous. It can bring great relief to children suffering from depression, and their parents, to know that they are not alone.