Yes, children can experience depression, including forms of the disease that can be life-threatening. October, National Depression Month, reminds us that depression is a treatable illness affecting nearly 10% of the adult population in the United States, plus 12% of the adolescents and 3% of young children, including pre-schoolers.
Depression can lead to suicide, which is the fifth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 5 to 14 years age, and the third leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 24. The rate of suicide for those ages 10 to 14 has doubled in the past 20 years.
Depression can range from mild to severe, the mildest being sad feelings in response to a sad situation. This is normal. Parents should assure children that sadness or depression is nothing to be ashamed of while not minimizing their feelings: what may be an insignificant issue for an adult, may be a major issue for a child.
If depressive symptoms persist, say several months, then it may be a form of depression called dysthymia. If the symptoms interfere with daily functioning, such as school or friends, professional counseling may help. Outpatient counseling is usually the first choice and only if this is unsuccessful will other options, such as medication, be considered. Clinical depression, a physical disease that is more serious, responds well to treatment. A combination of medications and “talk therapy” assures the best chance for recovery from serious depression.
Children who take medications must be monitored closely. Sometimes several different medications need to be tried before finding the most effective one, and the best dosage. Unfortunately, it may take 2-6 weeks before an improvement is noticed. Medicines such as St. John’s Wort have been used to treat depression in adults but their effectiveness in children has not been adequately studied and there is no evidence that these therapies are safe for use by children. St. John’s Wort can also interfere with other medicines, including antidepressants.
In summary, depression may be mild, moderate or severe, determined by how intrusive and persistent the symptoms are. Do not be afraid to ask for help and remember, the earlier the intervention, the greater the chance for a full recovery.
Natchaug Hospital, quietly helping people recover from mental illness for the past 50 years, provides treatment at 10 sites in Eastern Connecticut. For more information, visit www.natchaug.org, or call 860.456.1311
Montville Joshua Center, Natchaug Hospital