Spotting depression in kids is essential

Published 2:19 pm Saturday, May 26, 2012

Aimee Otto, Guest Column

Depression in adolescents is an often under-diagnosed problem, but nevertheless a prevalent problem in today’s society.

Aimee Otto

It has been estimated that 8 percent of children and adolescents suffer from depression at any given time. There is a common misconception that many of the symptoms of depression, such as irritability and mood swings, are a normal part of adolescence.

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This is not the case, and should be taken into account if there are additional symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, poor concentration, low energy, loss of interest, or sleep disturbance (over sleeping or not sleeping). The effects of depression can result in symptoms of decreased school performance, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, drug and alcohol use, and increased risk of suicidal ideation.

In children, boys and girls are at equal risk of developing depression, but once a child reaches adolescence, girls have an increased risk of developing depression over boys.

Risk factors such as increased stress, social difficulties, abuse, neglect or the loss of a loved one or parent can precipitate depression in children and adolescents. Children and adolescents with a family history of depression also have an increased risk, as do children and adolescents with disabilities such as chronic illnesses or learning disorders.

Educating children and adolescents about depression is important. Adolescence is a difficult time and many suffer from identity confusion and fragile self-esteem. They are also reluctant to follow adult advice and have an intense need for belonging in their peer group. Due to this they may not want to step forward for help with symptoms of depression due to fear of being found different and unacceptable to their peers. This is why education is vital to this group so they understand the long term effects of unresolved feelings of depression and know and understand that it is not OK or normal to feel this way.

There are different approaches to treat depression but often treatment consists of therapy or the use of an antidepressant. Each treatment needs to be individualized to the child.

When considering the use of an antidepressant the benefits and risks associated with the medication needs to be considered. There is a concern with the increased risk of suicidal ideation with the use of antidepressants. This needs to be carefully considered with the benefits and risks taken into account before going forward with the use of antidepressants.

Another approach to treatment is therapy. Often therapy is beneficial for children since depressed children often have a negative view of themselves and limited coping skills.

In therapy children are able to learn new coping skills and negative perceptions are challenged. Skills learned in therapy can be used by them now and into adulthood to promote well being.

There are many effective treatments for depression. Early identification and treatment reduces the risk for the development of a co-occurring condition such as substance abuse or a prolonged depressive state. By identifying depression early and initiating treatment children and adolescents have improved long-term outcomes and are able to reduce the risk of future episodes.

Aimee Otto is a behavioral health nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.