6 Things to Know About Child Depression
My daughter Rachel is sitting silently ten feet away from me, stroking our cat. It's a hot summer day and nearby her siblings are all splashing in our new pool. Why isn't my 11-year-old with them? Because she suffers from clinical depression, and she isn't having one of her better days.
I first noticed Rachel's symptoms when she was 6. She started clinging to me more than usual, crying at the smallest provocation, eating less, and having nightmares. She seemed anxious. After several weeks, the situation seemed to resolve on its own, but, having been through depression several times myself, I was on the watch for other signs.
Symptoms showed up again two years later, at the end of a long winter. Rachel, by then a third-grader, started telling me that everybody picked on her (though this didn't actually seem true), and that she wished she had never been born. That last, increasingly frequent comment scared me, but I decided to give her a few weeks to see if it would pass.
It didn't. Her mood became worse and her grades began to slip. I could see that she was suffering terribly. I wanted to hold her and tell her it would be all right. I wanted to vacuum out of her the empty, deceiving emotions that I knew were skewing her reality into despair.
We made an appointment to see the pediatrician, and it was obvious from Rachel's eager anticipation that she hoped someone could help her. Though I wasn't surprised at her diagnosis, I was surprised by how overwhelmed I felt by it. I couldn't think of any other parent grappling with this. And I ached knowing that my little girl had to deal with something so much bigger than she was.
Since that day, I've learned a lot about childhood depression -- including the fact that ours is far from the only family affected. If you think you may be seeing the illness in your child, turn the page for what you need to know.
"Depression is no more a result of 'bad parenting' than is diabetes or cancer," says Dr. Fassler. "All are real illnesses that require careful evaluation. The good news is that we can help most children and adolescents."
*Names have been changed.