Depression and Anxiety in Children

Depression and anxiety are becoming the most common forms of emotional illnesses in the United States and they are reaching numbers that can be considered an epidemic. Millions of Americans seek professional help every year for symptoms of depression and/or anxiety and millions more fail to recognize the signs and go untreated. Even though we know depression and anxiety are biologically based disorders that affect mood, feelings, thoughts and actions we need to ask why it is on the rise and what can we do about it? Life is changing, we are busier, more challenged, more competitive and more disconnected from others than we were in the past. We fail to take time to listen to our bodies, fail to recognize early warning signs, fail to seek help and fail ourselves in the process. We seek quick fixes for long term problems.

First and foremost, we need to educate the public and especially parents about the symptoms of depression. Why do I place emphasis on educating parents? Because, the number of children with depression and anxiety are also on the rise and it is important for parents to know the symptoms and not confuse them with developmental stages, “temporary madness”, stubbornness, mood swings or “showing off” behaviors. The most common is “attention seeking”. Yes, they might be seeking attention, but the cry for help is real. Take it seriously.

Today there is no social, educational or age discrimination. The most common symptoms of depression are: No interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy; feeling sad or numb, crying easily or for no reason; feeling slowed down or feeling restless and irritable; feeling worthless or guilty; change in appetite; unintended change in weight; trouble recalling things, concentrating or making decisions; headaches, backaches or digestive problems; problems sleeping, or wanting to sleep all of the time; feeling tired all of the time and thoughts about death or suicide.

What we look for in diagnosing depression and anxiety is a constellation of symptoms. Depressed and anxious children often do not have the verbal skills to say “I am sad, lonely, depressed etc.” They are more likely to act out. They may seem irritable, anxious, angry or moody. There is help. We have treatment options that work. These include medication, therapy, neurofeedback, social support and lifestyle changes. Getting well is only the beginning of the challenge; staying well is the real goal. Talk to friends and family. Identify the symptoms, seek professional help and advice.