Your child has begun to show the signs of mild Depression in middle school. Depression does tend to run in families. In vulnerable children, it often makes its first appearance in the preteen or early teen years.
It can be hard to tell the difference between mild Depression and mild ADD. This is because many of the symptoms are similar, and the age of onset is often early adolescence for both. To complicate matters, if your child has untreated ADD that becomes a problem in middle school, this can lead to depression. Luckily, many of the treatments for Depression also work for ADD.
Signs of Mild Depression:
• Sadness and crying
• Loss of interest in usual activities; withdrawal from friends, family and hobbies
• Declining grades; usually caused by loss of focus, feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed by schoolwork
• Hopelessness; Saying things like, "I hate my life." or "Nothing ever works out for me."
• Anger and irritability; In some children, depression appears mostly as irritable and negative mood. Tantrums and rages are not uncommon signs of depression.
• Sleep disturbances; These are a cardinal sign of depression. Insomnia is common, especially early waking. Some kids will oversleep if depressed.
• Loss of appetite; The child will lose interest in food and go all day without eating. If asked, they say they do not feel hungry.
• Dark thoughts; Your child may or may not confess these to you. Often teens are not open with their parents about their inner thoughts. You can check their poetry and their diaries for clues.
This is where a therapist can be helpful. Teens will often confess their darkest thoughts to a sympathetic but neutral adult outside the family.
If your teen's dark thoughts began to verge toward suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, (such as cutting), then your child is probably suffering from a more serious form of Depression called Clinical Depression. Clinical Depression in a teen is very serious. It can be life threatening. Any threat of suicide or suicide attempt by a teen should be treated immediately by a psychiatrist or in the hospital. I will be writing another article about Clinical Depression in teens. Just let me mention now that it is very treatable.
Mild Depression, known as Dysthymia, tends to be a chronic, low-grade depression. It is not as dangerous as Clinical Depression. But is can still cause great unhappiness in the child, and all sorts of difficulty and stress for the parents. It also can damage the teen's process of maturation and lower his self-esteem. Self-esteem is fragile in adolescence anyway. Anything that damages it can make the process of growing up that much more difficult.
Helpful Parenting Tips:
• Talk to your teen about how you notice that he seems sad. Encourage him to share his thoughts and feelings. If your child's grades have deteriorated, ask him how he feels about school. "It's boring." "I hate it." "I can't concentrate." All are answers that may mean your child is dealing with depression. You can also ask your child's teachers whether they have noticed any change in his mood.
• If you notice 2 or 3 of the above listed signs of Mild Depression, take your teen to a psychotherapist or psychologist for an evaluation. Your teen may need to talk it through with a sympathetic and neutral adult. You, as a parent, may also need support to deal effectively with your teen's Depression. Mild Depression can be treated effectively with a combination of individual therapy for the teen and family therapy for the parents. If the Depression proves resistant to therapy, medication can be very helpful. It can help the child feel better quickly, and provide a stable platform of good feelings so that he can work on the Depression in therapy.
• I always recommend that teens who need medication be evaluated by a psychiatrist. This is not difficult to arrange. There are a number of excellent child psychiatrists in Contra Costa County. The usual treatment protocol is counseling once a week with a therapist and a medication check about once a month with a psychiatrist. Therapist and psychiatrist who work with teens will collaborate to provide the best possible treatment. Medication can provide a real helpful boost to the treatment of Depression, so that it can proceed more quickly. Teens with Mild Depression often do not require medication for a long time. Once the Depression is in remission for a period of time, you may be able to discontinue medication.