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Health Matters: Youth depression is tough subject to tackle

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Can you tell if your child is depressed? How do you know? Is your child running with a new group? Has his or her physical appearance changed? Do you spend less time together? None of these behaviors are actual symptoms or clinical indicators that your child meets diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.

A number of clinical criteria need to be met over a period of time before a diagnosis of major depressive disorder should even be considered, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Children with depression may become irritable, withdraw and show a lack of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. Depression can cause children to experience poor sleep habits, loss of energy and poor appetite. Children may experience difficulty focusing or concentrating. They may experience a sense of worthlessness or carry inappropriate guilt. Parents may notice that their grades fall, or that they don’t seem engaged in their schoolwork. Children who are depressed may complain of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

While no one chooses to be clinically depressed, many people suffer from this debilitating condition, including children. Unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable discussing how they feel or seeking help. Children especially may not understand what’s going on with their bodies or why they’re feeling this way. They can feel very confused, which can add to feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness or even suicidal thoughts.

Unfortunately, the subject of a person’s mental health is often considered “taboo.” Youths showing symptoms of depression may be told to “suck it up” or “knock it off.” This is especially true for people who come from a rural area with a “cowboy up” mentality.

If you’re concerned that your child may be experiencing symptoms of depression, ask to have the child evaluated by their medical or behavioral health providers. Treatment may be as simple as a few office visits. Children may learn new tools to manage their moods. In addition to talking about healthy coping skills, the behavioral health provider may also suggest that your child get into a routine, set small realistic goals, and engage in activities that bring joy. If symptoms do not improve with therapy alone, the provider may suggest integrating medication into the treatment plan.

Many people tend to believe that if they ask about depression or suicide this will make things worse. This is not true and in fact it is quite the opposite. Talk to your child about whether he or she is experiencing symptoms of depression. If you’re concerned your child may be suffering from this or other mental health issues, contact your provider and have your child screened. With appropriate treatment, depression can be managed or even resolved.

Erin E. Saxer, MSW, LCPC, LCSW, a psychotherapist at RiverStone Health, may be reached at 247-3350 or

Children especially may not understand what’s going on with their bodies or why they’re feeling this way. They can feel very confused, which can add to feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness or even suicidal thoughts.


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