DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN By Anne Marete.My friend Irene (not her real name) went home about three months ago, to find her sevenyear old daughter hurdled in a settee, looking miserable. She did not make much of it, sinceshe thought it was a normal childhood “blues”.The melancholic state however did not abet; if anything ,it was getting worse with eachpassing day .I then advised her to have her daughter checked. The paediatrician theyconsulted directed them to a counselling psychologist.In their discussion, Irene recalled that of late her daughter was overly sensitive, tearful andexperienced disturbed sleep patterns. She had also lost interest in school and comemorning, she would always complain of a headache, stomach ache or some other ache, yetimmediately the school bus left ,she would be well again. The stark reality then dawned onher –her daughter was depressed-yes, depressed.Do children really get depressed? What would make a child depressed? Children too getdepressed. Childhood is not just a care free and trouble free time. There are factors,ranging from hereditary, biological, physiological and environmental ones that predisposechildren to depression. Children for instance constantly deal with the need for peeracceptance; the good grades they have to make at school, parental expectation of them,and loss through divorce, separation abandonment or death of one or both parents, otherchildren have to contend with physical and emotional abuse, including sexual abuse, attimes from those who should otherwise love and protect them. The disturbing thing is thatchildren are hard to diagnose, hence treat for depression because they go through manyphysical and emotional changes, as they progress through natural growth and development.Also, each child has their own rate of maturity , hence what is considered normal inchildren falls within a wide range of behavioural abilities .There is also the issue ofignorance . Many people do not imagine that a child can be faced with mental disorder. Attimes even those who have reason to suspect mental illness such as depression in theirchildren, may not want to come to the open for fear of stigmatization by the self righteous
society, who might think of them as poor parents. As a result of these factors, it is difficultfor these children to access the benefits of the much needed health care.In diagnosing mental disorder , depression included, one must consider how well a childfunctions at home, within the family ; at school with peers; as well as a child’s age andsymptoms. Signs that a pre-scholar could be faced with depression could include not playing,fear, ignoring people, treating strangers the same way as family and not seeming to gettingattached to caregivers and parents , especially in cases where parents are away for longperiods of time).Older children and teenagers may display a loss of interest in friends, register a drop inperformance, display outburst of rage, lengthy negative thoughts, defying authority, andexcessive complaint of physical ailments, sleeplessness and a general feeling ofhopelessness which could eventually lead to suicidal thoughts.Depression in children should not be taken lightly .If treatment is commenced in time thenthe patient will recover and lead a normal life. If not, it can be disruptive .The patient isunable to cope with the daily life problems and activities and for the teenager it may lead toabuse of drugs, alcohol included, to try and cope.There are a number of ways to treat depression .Treating with anti depressants is one suchwayPsychotherapy (counselling) is another .It addresses the emotional bit of depression .Itemploys the ‘talk through’ strategies thereby understanding and dealing with the symptoms(like Irene’s child’s case).It was discovered that her daughter’s depression was being caused by multiple factors.First, Irene a nurse, would be away most of the time when on day duty, She would get homelate considering the never ending Nairobi jam. Then would come the night duty period.When she would not see her mother in the evening and would be in school when myfriend came home from work.The other problem was that she would get many different care-givers, some of whom wouldbe very cruel to her (like the one they had at the time).At school, whenever she failed to do well, so she told the counsellor, the teacher wouldmake jokes of her and the other children would laugh --she hated it.The little girl thus, found herself between a hard rock and a sledge hammer.The third way to treat depression even in children is the use of Creative Therapy .A goodexample is Art Therapy which may be helpful especially with children who may have troublecommunicating their thoughts and feelings .Other than treatment by medical practitioners parents can also do something to help.
1. Encourage your child to talk about what affects their lives. 2. Many of us want to involve our children in our adult problems, our fights, quarrels and financial woes .it is advisable that we leave our children out of this, as their time will come. 3. Let us desist from comparing our children with those we feel are doing well. Even fingers of the same hand are not of the same size. When I go to my children’s schools for open days(consultation days),You will hear parents lament to the teachers how they do not understand this particular child as all their other children are bright and have gone up to the university . 4. Take every opportunity to compliment your child. 5. Encourage your children’s friendship s and let them know they are loved and are lovable .It enhances their self worth. 6. For adolescents, you need to communicate a lot, replacing shame and punishment as a way of discipline with positive reinforcement for good behaviour. 7. At times, allow your teenager to make mistakes .Over protecting and making decisions for teens can be perceived as a lack of faith in their abilities and can make them feel less confident .Give your teenager breathing room without expecting them to do exactly as you say all the time .Don’t force your children down a path you wanted to follow .Avoid trying to relieve your youth through your child’s activities and experiences .It most likely will not work. Diet and regular exercise are also paramount. Fruits and vegetables, whole grain andcereals are very important to the child’s mental well being .They are physical and emotionalhealth boosters.OMEGA 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as tuna , salmon and mackerel is very good forthe brainThen we have Vitamin B12 found in nuts, soya beans and dark green leafy vegetables whichare good mood boosters. It goes without saying that your child should take less caffeine,soda and tea as they cause anxiety.
The government too has a part to play by aiming at protecting, promoting and improvingthe rights of the mental patients-children included, through mental health legislation andpromoting access to mental health care and community integration.In conclusion ,my advice to parents is to stop being in denial and seek help for your child’smental disorder which may not necessarily be depression ,but could be any of the othertypes such as anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder(hyperactivity) disruptivebehaviour disorder or even schizophrenia.Let mental disorder not be a topic to be discussed behind closed doors .Let us be pro activeand our children and teens will survive them.Let us stop exclusion and dare to care.