Everyone gets sad. Every single person has had sad feelings once in a while. It is normal to feel blue, isolated, down or out of sorts occasionally. More than half of teenagers go through a sad period at least once a month and younger children do too.
What makes kids sad?
Hurt feelings, anxiety over school, home and family issues or worrying about things in the news. One of the major reasons for sadness in children is feeling that they are not understood and accepted. Sometimes with sadness, there are other feelings mixed in like guilt, anger or resentment. Unfortunately, children may feel that events like death, illness or divorce is their fault. They may feel shame over something that happened and they are afraid to tell parents for fear they will be blamed and lose their love and support.
Why would they feel that way?
Because they are children and their minds are not able to make the distinction between cause and effect. They need to be reassured that your love is unconditional and that sometimes in life bad things happen to good people.
When is sadness a problem?
When it goes on for too long, hurts too deeply and interferes with daily life it goes from sadness into depression. It is thought by many professionals that while events may be a trigger for depression, it is not what happens to us in life, rather how we respond and make sense of the events.
What should caring parents watch for?
Prior to puberty the equivalent of depression in children is anxiety. Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, founder and director of the New York University Child Study Center says, "When kids are anxious they most probably have similar biochemical issues to teenagers. About half of depressed teens had a childhood anxiety disorder." Most kids will bounce back from a disappointment or adverse situation in a few days. Depressed children are still sad after a couple of weeks.
How do we help our children overcome sadness and depression?
Much of clinical depression is about how we interpret reality and when we fall into thought patterns that are negative or unrealistic, they may take time to reframe. Sometimes treatment involves talking to someone who knows about depression. I recommend cognitive therapy which is short term and result oriented. It is sometimes necessary to take medications which can give a brain a jump start on reframing our thoughts.
Little bouts of bruised feelings, disappointments and the blues are part of our lives, but deep sadness, anxiety and unhappiness is not what anybody deserves. Depression will not go away by itself. We need to be encouraging, supportive and responsive to our children's moods and emotions.
This is a wonderful world, filled with good opportunities, people and experiences, and we want to help our children and ourselves enjoy it to its fullest.