Signs and treatment of childhood depression

Psycho-emotional disorders are getting younger every year. This is due to the general neurotization of the world’s population. Neurosis, psychosis, depression have become constant companions of residents of large cities, so it is difficult to expect that our generation can raise children with a perfectly healthy nervous system and psyche. Nevertheless, each parent wants to know what he can do for the well-being of his beloved child.

Children’s depression is one of the types of psychoemotional disorders that are expressed in a child in certain behavioral and somatic symptoms. This disease may appear at a very early age (up to 3 years), but more often and most clearly manifests itself in the teenage period. It is with this that the increasing incidence of suicide among adolescents is associated. 

Depression in children manifests itself in different ways, through different symptoms, depending on the age of the child and the causes of the disease. Difficulties in diagnosing this ailment in early, preschool and primary school age arise because up to 10-12 years the child is not yet fully aware of himself and his feelings, and cannot characterize his condition as “sadness, sadness, melancholy” . In these age groups, childhood depression is more often expressed through somatic symptoms, that is, various kinds of physical ailments in the child. This leads only to long and ineffective trips to doctors, and, alas, to the consolidation of the disease in the psyche and nervous system of the baby.

How to recognize the disease in time? What can it arise from? How to prevent the transition of the disease to the chronic stage? The answers to these questions vary depending on the age of the child. Let us consider in more detail each age category.

Most often, depression occurs on a psychological basis, but in children under 3 years of age, more significant causes are required for the occurrence of such a disease:

  1. Pathology of intrauterine development (intrauterine hypoxia of the fetus, intrauterine infection, etc.).
  2. Pathological, problematic childbirth or congenital disorders (birth asphyxia, neonatal encephalopathy, etc.).
  3. Severe illnesses carried at an early age.
  4. Hereditary causes when some family members suffered from mental or neurological disorders.
  5. Breaking the emotional connection with the mother (due to placement in an orphanage or for another reason), the child loses a sense of security and security.
  6. The difficult, substantially disturbed family environment in which the child grows (parental alcohol abuse, noisy scandals in the home, aggression and domestic violence).

The first four reasons can be called biological. As a result of any of them, a certain disturbance in the brain can occur, and as a result, depression occurs in young children. The last two reasons can be conditionally considered psychological, but in fact, due to age, the child feels them physically (for example, during scandals in the family, a young child suffers and its development is disturbed primarily because the fear of loud noises is inborn, and such a stressor too powerful for the baby).

Symptoms of depression in a young child can occur as follows:

  • decreased appetite, frequent vomiting and regurgitation;
  • delay in weight gain;
  • motor retardation, slow movement;
  • symptoms of delayed general and psychoemotional development;
  • tearfulness, moodiness.

In the presence of such symptoms, the pediatrician and pediatric neurologist should examine the baby and prescribe treatment.

Preschool age: 3 to 6-7 years old

The child grows, and his psyche becomes more complicated, an increasing number of factors influence it – the family atmosphere, the first experience of socialization (going to preschool institutions), the avalanche-like development of thinking and speech that occurs during this period. And the signs (symptoms) of the disease at this age already look different, very often manifest somatically (through various ailments). From the child you can already understand his mood, and although he himself is not yet aware of this, attentive parents can notice violations in this area.

In preschool age, a child’s depression manifests itself through the following symptoms:

  • impaired motor activity, decreased tone, lack of energy, loss of interest in your favorite games and activities;
  • desire for solitude, avoidance of contact;
  • sadness, the child so far realizes this as “boring and wants to cry”;
  • fears of darkness, loneliness, death;
  • mean facial expressions, quiet voice, “old man’s walk”;
  • various somatic ailments (abdominal pain, indigestion, body aches, headaches).

Regarding the causes of the disease, it is important to understand that they can accumulate gradually. Yes, the psychological and social causes of stress come into effect at preschool age. But this does not mean that a child at this age can get depression only on this basis (for example, after the divorce of parents). It is possible that the biological cause of depression was earlier (for example, perinatal disorders), but the child’s body coped with it in the early stages. And after adding more psychological reasons, the development of depression started. Therefore, it is important to conduct a high-quality diagnosis and be sure to undergo an examination by a neurologist with depression in a child of any age.

Thus, in preschool age, in addition to the reasons that cause depression up to 3 years, the disease can also be caused by the following:

  1. Psychological reasons. The fundamental of them at this age is the family atmosphere, the style of education. A child growing in a harmonious atmosphere with an effective educational model receives a kind of immunity to any neurotic disorders. Parents lay the foundation for his calm and self-confidence, he is much less susceptible to stress. Another thing is if there are scandals in the family, the parents are on the verge of a divorce, and the child is raised with the help of screaming and physical strength. Such a situation leads to neurotization of even the most neurologically stable organism.
  2. Social reasons. The child enters the period of formation of social relations, begins to attend the children’s team, experiences a conflict between his desires and the need to take into account the desires and requirements of others.

The most susceptible to the development of depression are melancholic children with a weak and unstable nervous system. But even such a child can be helped to strengthen his mental health.

If symptoms of depression appeared in a child aged 3 to 6-7 years, consultations and joint assistance of a number of specialists are necessary:

  1. Pediatrician consultation – for a general examination and standard examinations and analyzes.
  2. Consultations of specialized specialists, based on the physical symptoms of the disease (for example, if a child complains of stomach pain, a consultation with a pediatric gastroenterologist is necessary). This is necessary to exclude the presence of really serious somatic diseases.
  3. Consultation of a pediatric neurologist – to determine if there are biological reasons for the development of the disease, whether the brain and nervous system of the child are normally developed and functioning.
  4. With the exclusion of other disorders, and the diagnosis of “depression” – treatment by a child therapist.

The key role in this age group is the cooperation of the family with a child or family psychologist (psychotherapist). Creating a favorable psycho-climate in the family and a harmonious model of education can solve the lion’s share of neurotic problems in a preschool child.

The list of specialists whose consultation may be required is similar to the previous age group.

Younger school age: 6-7 to 12 years old

With admission to school, the social and educational load of the child increases significantly. In the classroom, the child learns to manifest himself among peers, in school – to set goals and achieve them, obey the rules.

Former reasons that can cause neurotization remain valid – biological, family. But new ones are added to them – a standardized teaching load (without taking into account the child’s psychotype and its features), problems in relations with peers and with the teacher. Also during this period, the child begins to formulate his goals and try to achieve them. Failure to do so also gives rise to neurotization.

Closer to 10 years, depression in children is increasingly diagnosed, and its psychological symptoms begin to be recognized by the child: he feels and says that he is sad, sad, does not want anything. Symptoms of depression at this age may be:

  1. Physical ailments: general weakness, headaches and dizziness, pain of various localization (stomach, heart, muscle pain), body aches.
  2. Psychological and behavioral symptoms: sadness, longing, apathy, lack of interest in playing and studying, avoiding contact with peers, tearfulness, vulnerability. Closer to 12 years of age, childhood and adolescent depression also begins to manifest itself in reactions of anger, temper, irritability. This is due to the hormonal processes of the body.
  3. Cognitive (cognitive) impairment: distracted attention, inability to concentrate, problems in mastering educational material.

Adolescence: 12 years to maturity

A hormonal restructuring of the body occurs, which in itself causes mood swings in the child. The first serious emotional connections arise in the outside world – with friends and the opposite sex, failure in this field is perceived very hard. Attempts to realize oneself, one’s “I”, one’s place in the world generate a lot of internal conflicts and contradictions. In parallel with this, the workload is growing significantly, the question arises of future professionalization.

For the first time in all childhood years, the first place was taken not by relations in the family, but by the child’s interaction with his peers, with equals. Their authority in this period is often more important than the parent. But do not forget that the favorable psychological climate in the family and parental acceptance remain with the child for many years, forming a solid foundation on which your child can always lean and feel confident.

Symptoms of the disease may be the same as in the previous age group. But significant mood swings, anger, irritability are added to them.

It is in this age group that thoughts about death and suicide attempts most often arise. It is important to understand that such manifestations are an extreme degree of a severe form of depression that has developed over several months or even years. Therefore, be attentive to your child, because with timely assistance, many problems can be avoided.

The list of specialists who should be sought for examination and help is similar to the previous age group, only an adolescent doctor is already acting instead of a pediatrician. Also, an endocrinologist’s consultation may be required, depending on the symptoms.

Treatment for Depression in Children

Treatment of depression in children should be comprehensive, and take into account the child’s age, duration and severity of the disease, its symptoms. Treatment methods may include:

  1. Drug treatment – only as directed by a doctor.
  2. Supporting procedures – reflexology, physiotherapy, etc.
  3. Treatment of concomitant somatic disorders in specialized specialists.
  4. Psychotherapy is the main treatment for any neurotic disorders. For a child, it becomes relevant from 3 years and older, and is most important in adolescence. It is important maximum cooperation of the family with a specialist, the best option is family psychotherapy.
  5. Creation of favorable physical and mental conditions for a child’s life (from daily routine and nutrition to relationships within the family).

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