As part of an ongoing mental health awareness campaign, Dr Hanan Derby, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has urged parents to be aware that depression can and does occur in children contrary to the belief that the condition does not affect the younger ones.
She noted that being aware of the signs and symptoms will enable parents to be more vigilant in seeking treatment for their children at an early stage, which will benefit their recovery. Dr Derby said:
It is a common belief that children do not experience depression, when in fact a significant proportion of mental illnesses do develop in adolescence – often before the age of 14. This belief is problematic because if parents do not think that depression is possible in their children, they will not consider that it may be something they need treatment or support for.’
According to Dr Derby, the signs and symptoms of depression often present differently in children to how they present in adults. She said:
Symptoms of depression in children and adolescents can present as functioning poorly at school, socially, or at home. It might even present as bad behavior, particularly in boys. Also, lack of interest, mood swings and physical aches are not uncommon symptoms.’
She said that the duration and persistence of the symptoms is something that parents should be paying attention to. Dr Derby said:
The key thing as a parent is to recognise how persistent the symptoms are. If they presented for a day or two then it is unlikely that depression is the cause; however, if these symptoms are longer lasting – it is advisable to seek medical advice.’
The symptoms of depression are also common for other illnesses and conditions in children that are not mental health related and these should be explored. Dr Derby explains:
There could be another medical issue at the root of these symptoms and a visit to the doctor as soon as possible will help to rule out other issues such as hypothyroidism or anemia.’
She noted that once other conditions are ruled out, a consultation with a mental health expert is advisable. She said:
Depression needs treatment, just as any other illness. It will not disappear overnight. A children’s mental health expert will be able to make an assessment and discuss the best possible treatment options, of which there are many.’
Dr Derby highlighted that certain things put children and adolescents at greater risk of depression; family discord, bullying, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and a history of parental depression or other forms of mental illness in the family, can all be risk factors, but she also stressed that these things are not exclusively the cause of depression. Depression in children is treated in a number of ways, according to Dr Derby. She said:
Individual psychological therapy, which is based on talking therapy, family work and in some cases medication are all possible options for treatment. Each individual child is assessed according to what they need in order to make a full recovery.’
There can often be a number of misconceptions about mental health, which can lead to a number of unnecessary worries, but most worries are rooted in cultural stigma and are not a reality. Dr Derby explains:
At HMC, we regularly see parents overcome their worries once they meet and talk with our team of experts, learn more about their child’s condition and recognize that their children are now on the road to recovery.’
If you are concerned that you or your child is experiencing depression and would like to seek help or advice, please discuss this with your current doctor or make an appointment with a private or primary healthcare physician, who may determine if you need a referral to the Psychiatry Department.