COVID-19: Stressful environment impacts kids mental health; here’s how to know if your child is depressed

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If you thought only adults had a tough time in 2020 due to the pandemic and its after-effects, you were wrong. A recent report in The New York Times (NYT) states that 2-3 percent of children in the 6-12 age group can have serious depression, even as the disease was originally conceived of as an adult problem.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/well/family/depression-young-children.html

Dr Perri Klass (MD), who authored the book ‘A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future’, says that there is worldwide concern not just about depression, but “suicidality among young people”. She adds that though even young children experience depression, it can look very different, making it all the more challenging for parents or doctors to provide help.

Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist, told NYT that 2-3 percent of children in the US between the ages of six and 12 can have serious depression. A researcher, Dr Helen Egger, added that between 1 and 2 percent of young children — as young as 3 years old — are depressed. Maria Kovacs, a professor of psychiatry, said that her research in the ’70s showed that “school age children can suffer from diagnosable depression.”

The report also states that though suicide attempts by elementary school children are rare, they do happen and have increased in recent years. Kovacs says that the most problematic myth about suicide is the fear of putting the idea in kids’ heads, adding that children may imagine death as “a release, a surcease, a relief”. Klass suggests that if a child talks about wanting to die, adults should ask what did she/he mean, and seek help from a therapist.

What are the symptoms of depression in younger children?

Kovacs suggests that the best way to recognise depression by what the child does, or stops doing. For example, does a child stop playing with her/his favourite things, stops responding?.

Egger added that the kids may also appear as if they have been sapped of energy. They may even sleep more or lose appetite.

Busman compared a child’s depression to “walking through the world with dark-colored glasses”.

What could be the causes for depression?

Kovacs said that the first episode in a child is always the result of a particular stressor such as change in the family situation — parents’ divorce, death etc — or it could be something more subtle, like an anxiety that has spiralled out of control.

 What about the treatment?

The report suggests that parents get the child evaluated by someone familiar with mental health issues in kids. It could be even the family paediatrician or primary care provider.

The doctors and researchers also insist on a comprehensive mental health evaluation, including gathering history from the parents, spending time with the child and talking to the school.

They added that for kids between three and seven years old, parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) is often used — coaching parents, and helping them praise what is positive about their children’s behaviour. Taking kids outside for walks, playing outdoor games, etc are among the other suggestions made by the doctors and researchers.

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