My Child is Depressed: How Can I Help? by Douglas Bloch - Read Online
My Child is Depressed
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Summary

This book will show a parent or caregiver how to identify the symptoms of depression in his or her child, teen or young adult one--and how to help the child get effective treatment. In the process, we will explore the phenomenon of caregiver burnout, which too often occurs when someone is caring for a person with a mental illness. Topics covered will include:

• How to Recognize the Symptoms of Depression, Bipolar Disorder and ADHD in Your Child
• Taking the First Steps to Help Your Child
• How to Respond If Your Child Refuses Help
• A Parent's Guide to Psychiatric Medications
• Substance Abuse and Your Child's Depression
• Keeping Your Child Safe: Suicide Prevention
• The Decision to Hospitalize
• Caring For Yourself to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
• How to be Mental Health Advocate for Your Young Adult Child (ages 18-30)

• How to Form a Circle of Healing For Your Child

In addition, the book will contain numerous real-life stories from parents and caregivers depicting how they helped their children with depression and bipolar disorder. Finally, the book closes with an inspirational account of one young person's mental health recovery--told from the perspective of the young adult and his father.
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ISBN: 9780929671093
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Chapter 1

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Depression in Your Child

One afternoon, Michelle received a distressing call from her son’s first grade teacher. Her seven-year old son Alan was having problems. Whereas at the beginning of the year, Alan had been enthusiastic about school, now he was not wanting to be there. Instead of participating in classroom activities, he would sit in the corner and withdraw. He had become argumentative with other children and avoided his friends. In a conversation with a school counselor, Alan said that he didn’t want to be alive."

Was Alan depressed? As early has thirty years ago the psychiatric profession would have said, Not possible Depression was considered an adult disease and when a child appeared overly sad, parents and clinicians considered this a normal part of growing up. Now we know that depression is not just a disease of middle age or the elderly. Childhood depression is a chronic, recurrent and serious illness

The first step in helping a child who suffers from depression is to recognize its signs and symptoms. This may be difficult to do initially. Families can remain in denial about what is happening to their loved ones. They may rationalize that this is just a phase or a stage, and that the child will grow out of it. In addition they may feel that they are to blame for their child’s struggle with mental illness. Yet, children can become depressed even when they are raised in loving and functional families.

Unlike other illnesses, depression cannot be diagnosed by taking a blood test or by a biopsy of the brain. Depression is diagnosed through observing its signs and symptoms--changes in a child’s mood, physiology, thinking and behavior. The symptoms of depression in children vary, depending on the age of the child.

Let’s look at how depression manifests in each of the following age groups,

1) Age 1-12 (a young child)

2) Age 13-19 (a teenager)

3) Age 20 and above (a young adult or adult child)

Symptoms of Depression in Children (before puberty)

Children before puberty who suffer from depression exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, sometimes making it hard to diagnose. Some kids with depression look like unhappy adults; they’re sad, despondent, tearful, and have a loss of appetite. Others, however (especially boys), react in an opposite manner; they become aggressive, hyperactive, break rules, get in fights, and use drugs and alcohol. Here are the major symptoms to look for:

1. MOOD CHANGES. They frequently look sad, tired, ill or tearful. They do not seem to have the usual amount of childhood energy and curiosity, or they lack the sense of humor and fun that most children have.

2. BEHAVIOR CHANGES. They act badly or are irritable for no apparent reason. They are demanding and difficult to please. At times they may become hyperactive. Since nothing makes them happy, they complain about everything. Their attitudes and behavior alienate the adults and peers around them.

3. PHYSICAL COMPLAINTS. They complain of not feeling good or of stomachaches, headaches or other physical ills.

4. LOW TOLERANCE FOR FRUSTRATION. They are easily stressed out and overwhelmed and tend to worry a lot or have exaggerated fears.

5. FEAR OF SEPARATION. They become upset, clinging and overly dependent when they are separated from their parents. They may experience some form of regression, such as sucking their thumbs or wetting their pants.

6. LOSS OF INTEREST. They lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, such as sports, hobbies, or attending clubs.

7. LACK OF ENERGY. They may complain of having no energy or being constantly tired. They may lie around all day without leaving the house.

8. SOCIAL PROBLEMS. They are overly shy and have difficulty making friends. They are nervous about interacting with others and may refuse to engage in social situations, or may become increasingly withdrawn.

9. SCHOOL DIFFICULTIES. Their grades may fall which may be due to difficulty in concentrating.

10. FOCUS ON DEATH. They talk of death and dying.

Many of these symptoms can come and go in children regardless of whether they are depressed or not. But if several of these signs persist for two weeks or more, it is time to seek out professional help.

Symptoms of Depression in Adolescents

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that up to three million teenagers suffer from major depression. More so than younger children, teenage depression has a wide range of symptoms from feeling sad to feeling mad. A teenager who acts out his depression can become defiant, anti-social, engage in shoplifting, cut school, drink or use, and engage in promiscuous sex. Here is a list of the main warning signs of depression in adolescents:

1. MOOD CHANGES, including feeling sad, irritable, touchy, overreactive, becoming easily angered, or having difficulty getting along with family members. They may also exhibit angry, aggressive, disruptive, or delinquent behavior or they may be just the opposite—withdrawn, inhibited, and overly serious.

2. LOSS OF INTEREST in clubs, athletics, spending time with friends, or other activities they were formerly interested in.

3. SOCIAL ISOLATION, separating from friends or family.

4. LACK OF ENJOYMENT, even when involved in an activity that they previously enjoyed.

5. CHANGES IN SLEEP PATTERNS, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In some teens, depression is accompanied by an increase in sleep.

6. CHANGES IN APPETITE, gaining or losing weight.

7. CHANGES IN ENERGY LEVELS, such as frequent fatigue, restlessness or agitation.

8. CHANGES IN APPEARANCE, specifically lack of concern about their appearance.

9. SCHOOL DIFFICULTIES, such as falling grades which may be due to difficulty in concentrating.

10. COMPULSIVE BEHAVIORS, such as compulsive partying, boy or girl chasing, thrill seeking, or stealing. They may also engage in compulsive studying (never taking a break and relaxing) or compulsive exercising.

11. DRUG OR ALCOHOL ABUSE. This is done to medicate the depression or anxiety,

12. LOW SELF-WORTH OR SELF-ESTEEM, such as criticizing themselves and taking blame for things that are not their fault. They may also have unrealistic concerns that they are unattractive or are disliked by others.

13. SUICIDAL WORDS OR GESTURES, such as I won’t be a burden any longer or giving away prized possessions. We will discuss suicide prevention in depth in Chapter 6.

Although sadness is the classic sign of depression, many teens do not look or act sad when they are depressed. One boy recalled that he put on a happy face every morning. I played varsity basketball and was president of my class, he said. But whenever I was alone, I was crying. I would wake up crying and cry myself back to sleep. I was in so much pain I wanted to die."

One night, after celebrating his team’s basketball victory with friends, this boy tried to kill himself with an overdose of pills. Fortunately, he was taken to the hospital and recovered. He then sought treatment, and with the help of medication and psychotherapy, the depression lifted.

Another classic sign of depression in teens and college students is that their schoolwork suffers; many are labeled as underachievers. An expert on teen depression tells parents, If a teenager exhibits problems at school, home or play, the problem may be depression. If problems exist in two areas, he or she probably has depression. With problems in all three, depression is almost a certainty.

Symptoms of Depression in and College Students and Young Adults

If your child is in his late 20’s, 30’s or older, he or she will exhibit many of the same symptoms associated with teens and younger children. These include:

chronically sad or empty mood.

loss of interest in ordinary pleasurable activities, including sex.

decreased energy, fatigue, feeling slowed down, slowed movement, slurred speech.

sleep disturbances (insomnia, early morning waking, or oversleeping).

eating disturbances (loss of appetite, significant weight loss or weight gain).

difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, difficulty in making decisions.

agitated actions (pacing, hand-wringing, etc.)

feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.

feelings of hopelessness and despair.

thoughts and/or talk of death and suicide.

irritability or excessive crying.

social withdrawal or isolation.

chronic aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment.

suicide attempts.

increase in addictive behavior such as binge drinking.

If five or more of the above symptoms are present and have been present for more that two weeks, your adult child may be suffering from clinical depression.

In the workplace, depression can be recognized by the following symptoms:

morale problems/lack of cooperation.

difficulty concentrating.

safety problems, accidents, listlessness.

absenteeism.

frequent complaints of being tired all the time.

complaints of unexplained aches and pains.

alcohol or drug abuse.

blaming others.

increased complaints about a spouse or significant others.

Even if you simply suspect that your adult child may be depressed, it is better to take some kind of action than to sit back and hope for things to get better. We will cover what you can do in Chapter 2.

Other Types of Depression that Can Affect Your Child

The kind of depression we have discussed thus far is called clinical or major depression. I would now like to give a very brief overview of other kinds of depression that can affect your child.

Dysthymia

While major depression comes and goes, there is another kind of depression called dysthymia that settles in on a person like a cloud or a gray drizzle. A child who has dysthymia is not disabled, but never functions at full steam. Having dysthymia is like living with a chronic low-grade infection—you never get seriously ill, but always feel a little run down.

Some of the most prominent symptoms of dysthymia are:

depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not, for at least one year.

difficulties in sleeping.

difficulty in experiencing pleasure.

a hopeless or pessimistic outlook.

low energy or fatigue.

low self-esteem.

difficulty in concentrating or making decisions.

irritability.

persistent physical symptoms (such as headaches, digestive disorders or chronic pain) that do not respond to treatment.

Because dysthymia is not as severe as clinical depression, the condition is often undiagnosed or dismissed as a case of psychosomatic illness. Perhaps the most famous example of dysthymia is Eeyore, the despondent and downcast donkey in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. If your child seems to share Eeyore’s gloom or pessimism, it is important that you take him or her to a qualified mental health professional who can make a correct diagnosis.

Bipolar Disorder

14-year old Nathan had a difficult transition into high school. At the beginning of his freshman year he became overwhelmed by the increased academic demands of his classes. Soon he sank into a deep depression and found it difficult to focus on schoolwork or to attend classes.

Then, one day when his dad was on a business trip, his mother announced to him that she was filing for divorce. When he called