Could Your Child Be Depressed?
By Jeannette Moninger
It's more than just the blues: Clinical depression among kids is on the rise. Here's how to tell if your child is suffering, and how to get help.
At first, Andrea Carpenter* blamed preadolescent hormones for her 10-year-old daughter's moodiness. "Allie was extremely irritable at home, and she'd get snippy with her dad and me for no apparent reason," says the Marietta, GA, mom. Life at the Carpenters' home grew so tense that the family started seeing a counselor who, after a few sessions, recommended that Allie visit a psychiatrist. "He mentioned depression, but I thought it was just puberty," Andrea says. Her thinking quickly changed after Allie said she wished she was never alive and talked about cutting her throat. "I was devastated — I knew she wasn't a happy-go-lucky kid, but I never thought a 10-year-old could be suicidal."
In fact, depression is the second most common childhood mental health problem. (Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is number one.) An estimated one in 33 children and one in eight teens are depressed, and the World Health Organization predicts that the number of kids — and adults — diagnosed with the disorder could double by the year 2020. Fewer than a fourth of the estimated 12 million kids in the United States who suffer from psychiatric disorders receive treatment, however, which places them at high risk for failing school, abusing drugs and alcohol, and committing crimes. Kids with untreated depression also are 12 times more likely to commit suicide. The nation's suicide rate for children jumped nearly 10 percent from 2003 to 2004, the largest increase in 14 years.
Even though up to 80 percent of depressed kids improve with treatment, many parents delay seeking help because of the stigma of mental illness. "I wish I would have reacted quicker, but it's a hard thing to admit your 7-year-old child is mentally ill," says Carmen Vandyne, a Columbus, OH, mom whose 11-year-old daughter, Addison, was diagnosed with depression at age 7. Other parents hope their child will just get over it on their own. But "depressed kids aren't just going through phases that they'll outgrow — they find it difficult to manage their emotions without professional help," says child psychiatrist Harold Koplewicz, M.D., founder of the New York University Child Study Center.
Figuring out the difference between true depression and temporary moodiness is crucial. Here's how to tell if your child has a problem — and what you can do to help.
*Names have been changed.