Many adults look back on their childhood days as care-free times. Compared to their stressful adult life of balancing work, family, finances, and personal issues, childhood is recalled as joyful and easy. But it’s not easy for all children. According to Dr. David Fassler, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, 3 to 5 percent of children and adolescents live with the weight of depression in their early years. A recent study in The Lancet alerted the health community that mental health issues topped the list of children’s health problems. Mental illnesses plague many adults, but also must be recognized in children. Therapists recommend that preventative measures taken in both schools and home could help reduce the numbers of children who develop depression.
Why Do Children Develop Depression?
Some adults deny that a child may have depression and make excuses that it must be the mood swings of adolescence or merely defiant behavior; but the longer depression is ignored or unrecognized in an individual, the more difficult it will be to alter it. Multiple factors can influence whether or not a child develops depression. Genetics play part of a role. Dr. Fassler says that a child with one parent who has depression has a 25 percent risk of developing it, while a child with both parents who have depression has a 75 percent risk. The following are some risks that can influence depression:
- Chronic illness
- Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
- Parents with substance abuse problems
- Recent immigration to the country
- Recent or frequent moves to new communities
- Separation from a parent due to prison, war, death, or divorce
Helping at Home
Children need stability and reassurance as they develop into adults. Parents and families may be able to help prevent depression by helping children recognize their skills and strengths and by offering guiding support. In discipline, children should be guided as to why there are rules. Focusing on the positive rather than the negative may help them understand that it is the action that is unwanted, not the person. They should be encouraged and complimented on what they do well just as much as, or more so, than degraded for what they have done wrong. While families can help guide, they should not shelter. Children need to have some disappointments so they can learn how to best manage them. A balance of support and freedom to make choices can help a child develop mental skills they’ll need as an adult.
Helping at School
Therapists encourage schools to also focus on preventing depression in children. They hope that schools will offer activities that encourage joy, optimism, and hope for today and for the future. They hope that diversity awareness and acceptance will help prevent misunderstandings between the melting pot of children that share a classroom. Children need strong role models and relationships with adults, whether it be a parent, grandparent, or teacher. They need someone they can trust and who they know will love them unconditionally. This person can allow them to communicate all their fears, worries, joys, and pains with no fear of judgment. Oftentimes, children admire a teacher and hope for that acceptance and trust in them. Receptive teachers can see the need and help guide that child beyond academics towards good mental health. As schools and parents work together, doctors hope that awareness, early prevention, and early help through professional treatment could help curb the numbers of children who have depression– allowing children to enjoy all of the playground, bubble gum, silly jokes, and joys of childhood.