On occasion of World Health Day whose theme is depression, experts urge parents to be alert to its symptoms in children
Dubai: Depression in children is on the rise worldwide and on the occasion of World Health Day on April 7, which is themed on this condition, clinical psychologists have cautioned parents to be alert to its signs and symptoms. In a new report published by the WHO this year, it is estimated that depression affects 5.1 per cent of the UAE population.
Dr Eve McAllister and Dr Daniel Stark from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH), London, are calling for parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression in children.
“Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions worldwide, including the Middle East,” reported Dr Stark, clinical psychologist from GOSH, which treats over 1,500 children from the Middle East every year. A common mental health condition that negatively affects people, in children, depression usually involves a child feeling sad or becoming significantly more irritable and finding it more difficult to get pleasure out of activities. It may include negative thoughts such as ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘Nobody likes me’ or ‘I’m terrible at this.’
Elaborating on the other underlying mental health conditions that are linked to depression, Dr McAllister said. “If your child, for example, has become very worried about speaking in public, asking and answering questions in school, and wants to avoid social gatherings at home, they may be experiencing social anxiety. This shyness can then lead to depression if it leads to your child becoming isolated from peers.”
Depression is very common in young people who have physical health conditions too, said doctors. “Based on scientific literature, [it can be said that] young people with a physical health condition are often more likely to experience depression compared to their peers,” said Dr Stark. “In addition, it is often their mental health difficulties rather than their physical health difficulties that have the biggest impact on the quality of life,” Dr Stark added.
He highlighted the fact that it’s important for parents to know that depressed children do not always behave like depressed adults. “The good news is that there are good, evidence-based treatments for children who are experiencing difficulties with their mood.”
Parents need to be mindful if their child is exhibiting many physical symptoms, he cautioned. For example, if a child often complains of stomach aches or having frequent days off from school, this can be a sign of a mental health condition. “It may be a sign that the child is feeling anxious about school.”
For parents who are worried that their child maybe showing such signs, Dr McAllister urged them to have their child’s assessment done thoroughly by a mental health-care professional.
“It’s important to think and talk about what has led to the range of symptoms. A qualified health-care professional, such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist, should be able to offer or recommend treatments that are evidence-based. This means the results are rigorously tested and shown to be effective in treating children who are experiencing depression,” Dr McAllister said.
“Depression shouldn’t be a stigmatising condition; we should be talking about it. It is a common difficulty and the good news is that it is a treatable condition that can lead to big improvements in children’s functioning and well-being at home and at school,” Dr Stark said.
What parents need to know about depression in children and teenagers
Causes: As in adults, depression in children can be the result of a combination of factors which may include: difficulty in making friends; challenges in school; stressful life events and family factors. It can also be manifest in children finding it difficult to return to activities they previously enjoyed.
Symptoms: Depression usually involves a child feeling sad or becoming significantly more irritable, and finding it difficult to get pleasure out of activities. Depression can also include physical symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss or gain, sleeping difficulties and finding it difficult to concentrate. Children with depression may wish to withdraw from day-to-day activities that they previously enjoyed.
Communication: If you think your child is depressed, it would be important to think about what your child may be finding challenging, and to speak with your child and their teacher about the changes you have noticed. It will be important that you communicate with your child in a supportive way.
Treatment: Speak to your child’s paediatrician to identify a suitable professional. They may recommend a thorough assessment from a qualified mental health-care professional (a clinical psychologist or a child and adolescent psychiatrist). They should be able to offer treatments that are evidence-based.