According to a report by the NHS, one out of eight children in England has a mental health disorder. Even more alarmingly, the Mental Health Foundation claims that 70 percent of children and young people who suffer from a mental health disorder such as depression do not receive appropriate intervention at a suitably early age — which is not just enormously burdensome, painful and dangerous for sufferers themselves, but is debilitating for parents, siblings, teachers, and other caregivers who lack the resources and knowledge they need to be part of the solution.
“In cases of childhood depression, the critical importance of early intervention cannot be overstated,” commented David Kalmanovitch, a London-based child psychologist with more than 15 years of experience. “This is definitely not a problem that goes away with time, or that children will simply grow out of. On the contrary, it invariably gets more severe and disruptive, and can become a long-term problem.”
Signs of Childhood Depression
According to experts, some of the potential signs of childhood depression include (but are not limited to): excessive irritability or anger; persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness; withdrawal from previously-enjoyed activities; significant appetite changes (over or under-eating); significant sleep changes (excessive sleep or sleeplessness); temper tantrums; fatigue and low energy; feelings of shame and worthlessness; and extreme sensitivity to criticism or rejection.
“Initially, most parents who reflect on this list of symptoms of childhood depression might be startled because their child ticks a lot of boxes,” commented David Kalmanovitch, who is also a professor and mentor in London. “The message here is not that parents should ring the alarm because their child does not like being told ‘no’ or that their child goes from sleeping seven hours a night to sleeping nine hours a night — or the other way around. Children, just like adults, have preferences and moods, and can be affected by everything from what they eat to the weather. Rather, parents should ask questions like: Is this negative behavior extreme? It is prolonged? Is there a trigger or a pattern? Does it involve or could it involve self-harm or violence towards others? Is it interfering with development and growth? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then the matter should be examined rather than ignored.”
With this in mind, parents who are concerned about the mental health of their child should not take it upon themselves to try and diagnose depression (or other emotional disorder such as anxiety), nor should they necessarily look for a root cause — because while their heart may be in the right place, they could make things worse instead of better.
Knowing When to Seek the Help of a Professional
“There are many possible reasons why a child may become and remain depressed” commented David Kalmanovitch. “In some cases, it could be due to issues in the home or at school, such as bullying or learning challenges. It is also possible that a child may inherit certain tendencies that make them more vulnerable to experiencing depression. The right place for most parents to start is by speaking with their GP, who will most likely refer them to a qualified and experienced child psychologist. The key thing for parents is not to start blaming others or themselves, which instead of alleviating their child’s mental health challenges will only exacerbate them. What is needed most of all is empathy, patience, tolerance, an open mind, and guidance from a qualified specialist. Parents need to show their children that with support, resources, love, and understanding, difficult problems can and will be solved.