In a culture that values self-help books and “the power of positive thinking” over true mental health and healing, it can be hard, even for adults, to admit when they need therapy. Who wants to be labeled “crazy” or “unstable?” Or just as bad, who wants to be told that they aren’t “real” Christians and that their faith is weak?
It can be even harder, then, for parents to admit that their children need help. They can feel like they have failed at parenting or have “damaged” their children in some way. The stigma regarding mental health has a long way to go before it’s gone, but rest assured: you are not alone. Your kids are not alone. There is peace and healing to be found in this journey.
This is a topic especially near and dear to my heart, as I was diagnosed with clinical depression at an early age. Within a span of less than two years, when I was nine years old, my parents got divorced, my father passed away, and I had to undergo life-altering scoliosis surgery during which I died on the table for a short time. All of these things were too much for my young soul to bear and I developed depression. I purposely isolated myself from friends and family, pushed my mother away when she tried to hug me, gained a lot of weight and regularly had angry outbursts. It wasn’t until I was in sixth grade, when I watched a television program about kids with depression, that I realized what was happening to me. It was then that I told my mother I thought I had depression and wanted to see someone that could help me.
Debi Shakti, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has 20 years of experience working with children and their families, and is here to help you recognize the causes and symptoms of depression and other related mental health disorders so you can get your child the help he or she needs.
Potential causes of depression
Children, not unlike adults, may react to different life events in different ways. What might trigger symptoms of depression in one child will not necessarily trigger depression in another child. In fact, if you have more than one child, one sibling can develop depression and the other may not.
The most important thing that you as a parent can do is to be as patient and understanding as you can, and avoid saying things like “Snap out of it” or “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” In addition to causing emotional pain and distress, you will be teaching your child that you are not a person he or she can trust.
Any number of things can cause depression, but according to Shakti, some of the triggers include “moving, divorce, a death in the family, a change in health and bullying at school.”
Symptoms and behaviors to watch out for
While depression manifests in different ways in different people, there are some symptoms that should raise a red flag, especially if this is a new behavior for your child.
“Isolative behavior, sad mood, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, ‘spacing out,’ distractibility, forgetfulness, poor attention and concentration and reduced interest in favorite activities are all significant symptoms of depression in children,” Shakti said.
She says there are also physical indicators to watch out for as well, including “increase or decrease in appetite, increase or decrease in sleep and nightmares.”
While it’s normal for children to experience sadness, forgetfulness and other behaviors every so often, you should be concerned if these behaviors are occurring together and for a prolonged period of time.
Beware of misdiagnosis
“Children also often present with changes in behavior such as hyperactivity, reduction in academic performance, noncompliance or even defiance,” Shakti explained. “Often, depressed children present with symptoms similar to ADHD (attention deficit and hyper-activity disorder) and may be misdiagnosed. Fairly sudden changes in behavior or mood are key indicators of possible problems,” she added.
If you believe your child has been misdiagnosed, do not hesitate to get a second opinion.
When it comes to your child’s health, both physical and emotional, there is no shame in seeking help from a licensed professional. God is with you every step of the way.
More information on Debi Shatki, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Shatki works in Studio City, California.
Got questions? Email her at email@example.com
Phone her at: 818-850-1591