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Severe Depression in Children (MDD)

What is MDD?

Major depressive disorder is a confronting and serious psychiatric illness which can severely impact the psycho social development of the child, however it remains largely misunderstood, misdiagnosed and undertreated. Parents struggling with this disorder in their children will first seek help from the local GP who is often ill-equipped to diagnose and treat the condition.

My intention in this post is to help parents recognize the symptoms and manifestations of MDD in their children and to equip them to seek answers from qualified practitioners.

[I am not a practitioner but have researched the topic and would encourage anyone who is concerned to do the same. This post is to share some of what I have learned in lay language]

These children are generally in the age range of 5 to 12 so pre-adolescent. It is more common than people would like to believe and early intervention will achieve the best outcome in treating a child displaying symptoms of MDD. Therefore, it is important for concerned parents to seek help early and follow up. It is also important to note that the younger a child presents with severe depression or MDD the more difficult it is to overcome and those very young children are more than likely to become adults who will continue to suffer serious depressive illness. Research has demonstrated that many adult disorders have their origins in childhood and conversely most childhood mental illness will continue into adulthood.

It is Difficult for GP’s and Parents to Acknowledge

Children are generally thought of as happy fun-loving and carefree young people who when they display symptoms of MDD they are thought of as spoiled or just extremely badly behaved children. Parents who bring a severely depressed child to the local doctor for answers are often confronted with disbelief or cynicism and leave frustrated. Doctors need to be informed of and aware of the illness and know the best course of action for further treatment so the child can be referred to a specialist physician working in the area of child mental health issues.

Risk Factors For Children With MDD

Previous to as recent as 1980 it was not agreed that children can suffer a severe depressive disorder. But in the years since there has been further study and acknowledgment that some children do meet the diagnostic evidence which confirms MDD. according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders .

They have noted an increase among young children in

  • the number and severity of depressive illness
  • tendencies to attempt or suicide at a younger age.
  • need for medical and psychiatric help

They have also noted a decrease in the social, educational and general quality of life for children suffering MDD. If the illness is allowed to continue into the teenage years and beyond it can have serious implications for the sufferer and those around them.

Most children who present with MDD will have experienced intense stress over a prolonged period

Some of these might be:

Consistent disharmony within the family.

Talk to the GP
Talk to the GP

Marriage breakup and divorce

Violence within the home

Physical and sexual abuse

Chronic illness

Physical disabilities

Bullying at school

Constant moving between foster families

Refugee trauma ad anxiety

A severe traumatic event such as bush fire where lives are at risk.

A genetic disposition to depressive illness.

Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder

  • Constant depressed moods
  • Extreme temper or outbursts of anger beyond normal
  • Lack of interest in social activities
  • poor sleeping patterns
  • lack of or very poor levels of concentration
  • physical symptoms such as aching or pain in various parts of the body
  • thoughts of or talking about suicide and death
  • blaming themselves for all the bad things happening around them
  • poor appetite and failing to thrive
  • social withdrawal and not wanting to attend school or other social connections.
  • inability to relate to others around them.
  • self injury or self mutilation

When To See the Doctor

If you observe several of the above indicators it would be prudent to talk to a doctor. It would also be wise to eliminate any physical underlying illness which might be contributing to the depressive behavior in the child. Unless all other contributing factors are addressed the chance of an accurate diagnosis will be severely impeded and may never be conclusively reached.

Some children showing signs of depression may not be picked up in the home but by family friends of school teachers. For the concern to be followed up the teacher should voice his/her concerns to an appropriate advocate for the child. If abuse is suspected then it may be time to contact the police or family services.

It is important to note that not all depression in children can be clinically diagnosed as MMD. There are other depressive illnesses which may be present and may display similar symptoms.

However, it does not matter if it is one kind or another the important factor is to have it treated effectively as early as possible so that it does not progress beyond the childhood years teenage years and then to adulthood. Depression at any age can be very debilitating and severely impact the quality of life for the sufferer as well as all those around them. Early intervention and treatment will deliver the best outcome.

Treatment

  1. Begin by addressing general physical health issues such as diet, exercise and ensuring they are getting adequate sleep.
  2. Try as much as possible to encourage the child to express how they are feeling and actively seek ways to address those feelings if they indicate a malfunctioning such as feelings of extreme sadness or wanting to self harm. They may require professional counseling and support from concerned adults around them such as teachers and grandparents.
  3. Encourage pleasurable activities with other children and engage them in activities which will draw out a positive response. Ensure them that they are loved and valued.
  4. Seek further professional help if there is no evidence of improvement after a couple of months of working together with a team of people concerned for the welfare of the child.
  5. Work with the child ‘s siblings through all the above strategies so that they are in the loop as to what you are trying to achieve and that they understand that one child is ill and needs some extra help at this time.

A helpful site for understanding depression in children can be seen here:  Health Direct

The Following Ted Talk by Nadine Burke Harris, who is a pediatrician states : and I quote from her Ted Talk summary  Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Nadine explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for paediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

    • Emmanuel Buysse
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Great post and good info.

    Luckily I don’t know anybody in my neighborhood that has a child with this disease, as far as I know at least. 

    How common is this actually? 

    It is sad to hear that a lot of people, even doctors, won’t take it serious, as I see which kind of consequences it can have, not only know, but also in the future. 

    I have one question about it, is this related to the lifestyle, in which I mean, they get everything they want the day of today, and because of that, you see it more than in the past? 

    Thanks for sharing! 

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you for your comment and your question Emmanuel. . Depression in children is usually as a consequence of some other underlying issue.Sexual abuse, physical or emotional abuse, trauma etc. They are acting out what is happening inside their psyche with negative behaviours because it is difficult for them to verbalise their experience or they are afraid to. 

    • Dapoach
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Your post about the Major depressive disorder, is top-notch. I haven’t come across this condition before online though . Thanks for the twelve bulleted Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder that you listed. Its of paramount importance that parents study their children to see if they exhibit any of these symptoms so that it could be attended to immediately and taken to specialist Doctors who can handle the case. I have bookmarked your page and will love to read more updates from you subsequently. Thanks once again, your post has been helpful

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you for your comment Dapoach. I responded in another reply that the use of medication to resolve these issues in children is a concern. If they are suffering as a consequence of some trauma or abuse we need to find out and resolve it before resorting to drugs. 

    • Louis
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Thanks for this eye opening piece. Generally, it’s unexpected for children to suffer from depression. However, circumstances of life can expose some children to traumatic experiences and this can cause such children to be depressed.

    I once met a kid who was sexually abused by a close relative and all she could talk about was giving up on life. I think a lot more should be done to protect and also assist depressed children.

    Thanks for this write up. Keep up the good work

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you Louis for your comment to this article. It is a very serious issue. Too many children are being given medication for ADHD  and I do not believe that is the answer. We need to find out why the children are manifesting the way they are. What has caused them to be disruptive or anti-social? Nadines Ted talk is really worth listening to. 

    • Polycarp Momoh
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Wow! This is surely an eye opener. I was once a kindergarten and primary school teacher and I have come across a few children with very antisocial behaviours. Little did I know that those could have been symptoms of depression. These children are prone to be vilified by relative or peers thinking that they willingly behave in such manner. Well now o know better. Thanks

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you for your comments Polycarp. I was a school teacher too and yes I have seen many children behave in ways which could have mistakenly been labeled as bad behaviour when in fact they were severely depressed.. We do not expect children to be depressed. 

    • Paschal
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Thank you for this post. Some times I wonder if this malady is genetic. Many years ago two cousins exhibited some of this symtons especially that of talking about death and being moody most often. Unfortunately they were accused of being possessed by an evil spirit and two of them commited suicide eventually after a period of 2 years respectively. Do you think it is genetic? 

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      That is such a sad response to this article but it is a fact that some families can have a predisposition toward depression or other mental health issues. We cannot rule out the possibility that there could be other factors at play such as bullying at school or some other traumatic experience. 

    • Taetske
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Good afternoon,

    This is a sad post. MDD, severe depression in children. I am wondering if this is related to our modern lifestyle? I will soon be 69 and have happy memories of my childhood. Lots of fresh air and playing outside. The way how children nowadays spend their free time differs a lot from how I used to spend my free time. There was no TV and neither a computer. I would play outside, read a lot, and be creative making all kind of things. The food was closer to nature, there were hardly any harmful radiations in the house and the water and air were a lot cleaner. Fewer vaccines and less stress. Could it be that our modern lifestyle makes children sicker? Dr. Amen does brain scans and can discover often why things happen to people.

    Regards, Taetske

      

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you for your thoughts on this very sad subject. I think you could have part of the reason for the prevalence of depression in our society generally be it among children or adults.  Parents are under more pressure financially these days, every one wants a fancy home and the latest car so financial stress in the home for some could be an issue. Your thoughts about food and technology are also interesting and it would be good to find some data on those aspects of modern life. 

    • Ola
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    This is lovely and i appreciate you for sharing this article with your blog readers. Depression is real and thats why we need to always check on each other. I have heard about major depressive disorder but i never knew this is how it works;  thanks for sharing tips on how to know the symptoms and also the treatment. 

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you Ola for your comments. My article is very much in lay terms. To know more of the research into depression in children you would need to look further. I just wanted to raise the issue because we often ignore the fact that children can suffer depression too.

    • Dan Sicat
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    This is an informative article about depression. Most of us are not aware of severe depression in children. As parents sometimes we just ignore the symptoms since we believe it is part of their growing up. With this article it is clear how serious this problem might become if not treated earlier and with appropriate medical treatment. 

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you Dan for your insightful comment. You are right, we do not expect children to feel depressed, especially in this modern age when they seem to have so much going for them. But some kids are really struggling and they find it hard to talk about. 

    • Abagatan
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    This is my first time to read and know about Major Depressive Disorders. Knowing the signs I know now how to call it when I see such actuation.

    In the treatment I like the number 2 which says: Try as much as possible to encourage the child to express how they are feeling and actively seek ways to address those feelings if they indicate a malfunctioning such as feelings of extreme sadness or wanting to self harm.

    I believe expressing ones feelings and views will give a hint to the disorders and how they are addressed. In fact, by mere expressing one’s feeling is a medicine and a cure.

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you for your thoughtful response Abagatan.  Communication is very important to everyone and children no less. However in some dysfunctional homes this is not seen as a priority.  I believe raising a child is the responsibility of the community in which that child lives. We need to look out for each other in our neighborhoods. and be aware when we see someone who is not coping .

    • cpanharun
    • February 23, 2019
    Reply

    Hi,

    Thank you for writing this informative article. If I did not read this, I would not know about Severe Depression in Children (MDD). Every man is sometimes frustrated and depressed. However, it does not last for too long, and within a few, days this frustration is cut. When depression is seen in more than everyone, it is a serious mental problem.Depression is not exclusive to adults only. Any older children can also be depressed. Even a few months’ old children may be depressed! According to various western studies, about two percent of children who have not started schooling, and about 5 percent of children under school children, from 18 years of age, are suffering from depression.How can parents ensure their child’s mentally healthy childhood? We can learn from this article that preventing depression in children. This article will be very beneficial for many parents because more or fewer children suffer from depression. Normally there is depression due to physical, mental and social. Those who suffer from long-term physical disorders, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and respiratory problems, tend to be more depressed. If there is a negative impact on the role of parents in the care of the children, in case of childhood, anyone is subjected to any kind of torture, but in the future, it may cause depression. It is important to be a victim of child abuse and to be ideal parents.This problem is increasing in the world day, so parents should be aware of their children. I’ll share this article with my family and friends. Thank you .

      • admin
      • February 23, 2019
      Reply

      Thank you for reading my article and for your thoughtful comments. I was impressed by the statistics you have listed for the incidence of depression in children. I would suggest it is much higher though because most of us tend to write it off as just bad behaviour or label them as spoiled  or miserable brats .We do need to look more carefully at this issue because it can lead to bigger problems later in life

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