Thursday, October 11, 2007

National Depression Screening Day

Today is National Depression Screening Day... a day for everyone to consider whether they or someone they love should be screened for depression. It is one thing for someone to go through grief after a bad experience, or to have the "blues" occasionally... but if a person experiences a degree of sadness or "down-in-the-dumps-ness" on a regular basis, so much that it interferes with their lives, they may have depression. True depression can be a debilitating illness that can even leave people unable to get out of bed! Luckily, there are many ways to treat it... but first it needs to be diagnosed.
It is important not to leave children out of this screening process. It is estimated that 3-5% of children and 8-12% of adolescents have clinical depression... but only a third of them get diagnosed and treated.
Children with undiagnosed, untreated depression are at high risk for things like substance abuse and suicide.
It is also worth noting that older kids (ages 10 to 16) who are very aggressive may actually be going through depression.
It may seem very strange to some of us that children can go through depression. But we have to consider that adults who live with depression can often remember feeling that way since they were small children.
Certain life experience can bring on bouts of depression in children, as in adults. For instance, if somoone in the family dies, if the family moves to a new home, or even just the hormonal changes of puberty. While these changes can be very difficult for all kids, kids with depression will experience their emotions more harshly than other kids.
Consider this scenario. A family has two sons, Michael and Erick, ages 10 and 9. The parents decide to move to a new home, in a different city and state. Both Michael and erick balk at the idea of leaving all of their friends and having to start at a new school. Both get angry at their parents. Both spend some time alone, crying, because they will miss their home. Both are very nervous about the big change.
When the family moves, both boys start at a new school. Michael misses his old house, but he sort of enjoys getting to help paint his new room, and soon he has made some new friends in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Erick spends every day sitting in his room, watching TV. He shows little interest in choosing things for his new room, or exploring the new city with his family. At meal times, he is often not hungry, and picks at his food. He has trouble sleeping, and often cries himself to sleep at night. At school, Erick is very withdrawn, and doesn't respond to the other kids' efforts to befriend him.
It is believed that certain people are predisposed to depression. Thats why, in this scenario, Michael was able to adjust to the new situation and move on, while Erick seemed frozen in his sadness and anger about the move and nothing could help him feel better.
Children with family members who experience depression have a greater chance of experiencing depression themselves. Children with special needs... from learning disabilities, to epilepsy, to cerebral palsy... seem to have a greater chance of experiencing depression as well.
A child experiencing depression may begin acting differently than usual. Even if he doesn't isolate himself and cry a lot the way Erick, in our story, did, kids don't always show their depression in the usual ways. A child with depression may start having angry outbursts, for example, become very whiny and clingy, or look and act bored a lot of the time.
Children with depression may have trouble sleeping at night, or they may do the opposite and sleep all the time. They may have a lot of trouble waking up in the morning, fall asleep in school, take a nap right after school, and then go to bed early.
Their appetites may also change. A kid with a healthy appetite may suddenly stop eating, or she may go the other way and begin eating far too much. She may gain or lose up to 25 pounds within a few weeks.
They may also have irregular bowel movements. Younger children who are already potty trained may suddenly start having accidents again.
At school, they may have a sudden drop of grades, a sudden lack of interest in subjects they used to like, refusal to do their homework, discipline problems, erc.
As explained before, a child with depression may have a harsher than normal negative reaction to a bad experience. A child's sadness or grief may stretch on for longer and longer, or effect the child more intensely than what would seem normal.
They may lose interest in their favorite things. A child who usually loves to ride his bike, play baseball, and play video games with his brother, may suddenly want to do nothing but lay on the couch and watch TV.
They may have physical symptoms... regular stomachaches, headaches, aches and pains in the arms and legs, etc. The child may also state these complaints as a reason for wanting to stay home from school or social events.
The child may also speak of his depression. Many kids will not be able to put their feelings in words, but some kids will talk about feeling hopeless, feeling bad all the time, or even say that they would like to die.
Parents, family members, mentors, teachers, and others who see children on a regular basis will have the best chance of noticing depression in a child they care about. You know the children in your life well. You will notice these changes.
Many areas offer free depression screenings this month. To find one, check out the National Depression Screening Day website. Or, bring him to his regular pediatrician, to a local mental health center, to a therapist, or ask his school counselor or social worker.
Once diagnosed, children can be treated with medication, along with different types of individual or family therapy. Hospitalization may be necessary for children with very intense depression.
Recognizing and treating childhood depression can save a child from a lifetime of feeling bad and wondering "What's wrong with me?" So, if you know a child who you think may have depression, have him screened this month!

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