Childhood depression needs attention

By Hayley Devitt

Sometimes I think life would be so easy if only I could go back to being a kid. Unfortunately, not all kids are happy-go-lucky. Though uncommon, children can have major depressive disorder.

Now, I’ve often heard the argument, “What does a kid have to be depressed about?” In fact, until recent decades childhood depression wasn’t taken seriously by professionals due to that very logic.

However, we now know that depression in any individual is not caused by what happens to make a person depressed. Instead, there is an imbalance of brain chemicals that makes a person feel and behave hopeless, gloomy and lethargic. People with chronic depression cannot simply “cheer up” because they have an actual mental illness.

Research and studies have shown that the illness can appear in children. The Associated Press revealed that a small percentage of children at preschool age can be diagnosed with major depression.

It is incredibly sad, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, “The depressed child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent or worry that the parent may die.”

I’m sure a lot has to do with genetics. Researcher Myrna Weissman from Columbia University spoke on NPR’s All Things Considered about her research on children with depression. She found that the majority of mothers of these children also had a mood disorder.

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a child is actually sick or is only going through a bad phase. Early adolescents are going through many changes hormonally and in their personalities, so often their depressive symptoms are regarded as typical developmental challenges. At times, younger children’s behavior is quite inexplicable in the first place.

I also believe that ADHD is over-diagnosed in children with any kind of behavioral problem. It is possible that children showing signs of depression have been written off as having ADHD, which only requires a quick and easy medication prescription. In those cases, a misdiagnosis is made so that long-term drug and counseling expenses can be avoided.

Not to mention, in many places mental illness comes with a negative stigma attached. Parents don’t want to believe, or others to know, their child has a brain disorder. Such diseases can be frighteningly hard to understand, and to some they are embarrassing. Again, mood disorders of a child might simply be swept under the rug in order to avoid facing an unpleasant fact.

Some of our readers may be wondering, “What do these kids have to do with me, a college student?” To any of you planning on working with children, in a medical, psychiatric or educational setting for instance, this subject is very important.

If any of you would like to have kids one day, and I suspect most of you do, you should pay attention to these things now. Not to stress out or worry about something down the road, but just to be aware of what may be ahead.