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What's Wrong With You This Time?" Children, Teenagers and Depression

by Cate Russell-Cole  
10/19/2015 / Family


For some of us, the haunting misery of depression is a familiar story. Up until two years ago, I spent the majority of my adolescence and adulthood clinically depressed and suicidal - but undiagnosed. When I look back, I see that my problems with depression started much earlier than adulthood or adolescence.

For me, the stage was set early in childhood. I was a solitary child, (not by choice) and didn't have many friends or adults around, so no one noticed it was a problem, and nothing was done to help me. My parents abused me for being moody and difficult, and told me to "snap out of it, you've got nothing to be miserable about." As a child I had to deal with the loss of my birth mother, the challenges and differences of my disability, a over-protective and possessive mother, and dysfunction in my adoptive family. By the age of eight I was taken through a battery of tests to find out why I had stomach pains all the time. There was no physical cause, I was a lonely, depressed, hurting child. My family put it down to not fitting in at school, which they expected would happen to a disabled kid, and nothing else was done. Some of my depression was caused by an undetected chemical imbalance in my brain, as some cases of clinical depression have arisen from, but most of my problems with depression were directly related to my inner pain.

Clinical depression isn't a short term emotional state that lasts a few days or weeks. It goes on endlessly for months and years, dominating your life and sapping your energy. It can't be overcome because things are looking brighter, or concretely improving. You can't fix clinical depression by positive thinking. It is a disease, in the same way cancer is. You can't re-programme yourself out of it, or change your routine and hope it disappears. With the increased pressures our children have on them, plus the onslaught of hopelessness the media brings into our homes, plus our mounting social problems, (all of which our young people are only too aware), not just younger adolescents, but children are now frequently being diagnosed and treated with clinical depression. A study done by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, found that depressed adolescents had a five fold increased risk of making a suicide attempt than an adolescent who hadn't experienced long term depression. Logically, if the depression starts in childhood rather than in the teenage years, that risk increases as the problems are exacerbated by the onset of puberty, and it's additional emotional and social challenges. Parents need to be aware of how their children are really feeling. Willing to look at avenues to getting them professional help, rather than trying to talk them out of their misery, or pretending it will all blow over in a few weeks. That is what my parents did, and it didn't work, it made me feel guilty, and even more miserable.

The National Institute For Mental Health (U.S.A.) lists the symptoms of depression as:
* Persistent sad or "empty" mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed
* Insomnia, early-morning waking or oversleeping
* Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
* Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
* Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Excessive crying
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches,
digestive disorders, and chronic pain

In children and teenager's terms of reference, also consider:
* Have they lost pleasure in interests they loved such as sport, video games, band,
being with their friends?
* Are there more problems at school or at home?
* Do they want to be alone more than usual?
* Have they started cutting classes, or dropped hobby and/or activity groups?

It's worth mentioning that this Institute also points out that "Though depression seems to occur generation after generation, in some families it can also occur in people who have no family history of depression."

If you can see signs of depression in your children or teenagers, or even if its you who is battling with these symptoms yourself, please, don't judge or try a quick fix. It isn't anyone's fault, it is a sickness that does have treatments (not necessarily all drug treatments either), and it needs to be properly identified and treated. Find someone who will understand and knows how to deal with depression in an effective way. Someone in whom you have confidence will stick with you, and be constructive. Don't stop looking until you find the support you need, and answers that are satisfactory.

My relationship with God and the support of my friends, finally helped me to overcome my depression, plus later I did identify some medication related causes. However, I never could have come out of it all by myself. There are answers, and for each individual, they may be different, but they are out there. I pray you will find the answers to meet your needs.

This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written in Australian English.

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