Part III: Youth Dealing with Depression

We all feel sad from time-to-time – it's a normal and appropriate response to disappointment and loss.

  • Dec. 19, 2014 3:00 p.m.
Dr. David Smith

Dr. David Smith

From normal blues to debilitating depression: recognizing the signs and symptoms to help your child or teen

**********

We all feel sad from time to time.

It is a normal and appropriate response to disappointment and loss. But how do you tell whether your child or teen is experiencing normal sadness or suffering from clinical (or major) depression that may need expert help?

Telling the difference can be difficult as the symptoms of depression can be different in children and teens from adults. In young children, it may express itself by being excessively clingy, frequently crying, expressing fear that they or others will die, losing interest in toys or friends, losing interest in school or refusing to go, frequent headaches, stomachaches or feeling sick.

In older children and teens, along with many of those symptoms can come others like withdrawal and social isolation. Other symptoms can be a lack of energy, extreme boredom, inability to concentrate or communicate, loss of friends, or lack of desire to see friends. Changes in patterns of eating and sleeping (either too much or too little) are common signs, as is being unable to get out of bed or off the couch. If your teen has previously been involved in sports and hobbies, depression may show up as an inability to enjoy or partake in activities that used to bring pleasure. Also common are feelings of excessive regret, guilt and remorse and increased irritability, aggression and hostility, as well as extreme sensitivity to rejection, criticism or failure. Sometimes untreated anxiety can turn into depression when the child or youth feels overwhelmed by their fears. One or two such symptoms usually aren’t enough to make a diagnosis, but a pattern of sadness or loss of interests or pleasure combined with three or four such symptoms extending over two weeks or longer is more suggestive of clinical depression.

For parents, some of these symptoms can seem at times like normal teenage angst, lack of motivation or even misbehaviour. In fact, up until about two decades ago, it was thought that depression was primarily an adult disorder that rarely affected children or teens. Any symptoms displayed were put down to “a phase” – moodiness, over-dramatization, or self-indulgence.

“Snap out of it!” many a parent would bark – thinking erroneously that cajoling or scolding might help.

More: Part II: Fear Not – There is Help for Children and Youth with Anxiety (Dec. 16, 2014)

Now we know much better. Depression is a serious mental health issue that affects about two per cent of B.C. children and adolescents every year. It is more common in girls, but it may be that depressed boys and teenage males display other behaviours like aggression, substance use, and delinquency, which can mask the depression.

The risk of experiencing an episode of depression rises with age and with family history. While sometimes depression comes seemingly out of the blue, it can also be triggered in susceptible youth (with a genetic predisposition or with low self-esteem, perfectionist tendencies, for example) by trauma, anxiety, guilt or regret, or the death of a loved one or other significant loss.

On its own, depression is bad enough, but its hopelessness and despair, with the inability to see a brighter future, can also lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds.

Fortunately, depression is highly treatable and youth are more likely to respond well to treatment if they receive it early. Treatment can consist of psychotherapy to teach youths how to address thoughts and behaviours that can lead to depression. Also, anti-depressant medication can be very effective at reversing depression and keeping relapses at bay.

If your child seems to be showing symptoms of depression, talk to your family doctor, a mental health professional or the mental health clinicians through the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

Call Service BC at 1-800-663-7867 to find the MCFD office nearest to you. Their experts will screen for depression and help your child access the most appropriate treatment if needed.

We do know that healthy diets, regular exercise, good sleep, and the ability to talk about problems with people who care are all protective against depression or relapses. Information and support are available through a number of websites, such as: ok2bblue.com, dwdonline.ca, heretohelp.ca; mindyourmind.ca; keltyresources.ca, mindcheck.ca, openmind.ca.

For youth with suicidal thoughts please call the B.C. youth crisis line 1-800-suicide, visit youthinbc.ca to chat with a counsellor in real time, or go to the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital.

**********

Dr. David Smith is an adolescent and adult psychiatrist and the medical director of the Okanagan Psychiatric services for Interior Health. This series of columns on common child and youth mental health issues is a project of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substances Use Collaborative. The Collaborative involves multiple individuals, organizations and ministries all working together to increase the number of children, youth, and their families receiving timely access to mental health services and support in the Interior Health and Vancouver Island regions. The Collaborative is jointly funded by Doctors of BC and the government of B.C.

. .

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Power outages affected thousands of BC Hydro customers in the north on Jan. 14 (File photo) (File photo)
Power outages affect thousands of BC Hydro customers in northern B.C.

Transmission failure led to outages in Prince Rupert and Port Edward

A Prince Rupert port expansion project received a $25 million investment from the provincial government, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced on Jan. 14. Seen here is Ridley Terminals Inc., a coal export terminal in Prince Rupert (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)
$25 million government investment in Prince Rupert port expansion project

Prince Rupert port expansion project expected to create more than 2,200 jobs

For the second time in less than a year, Air Canada announced on Jan. 13 it has suspended flights on the Prince Rupert-Vancouver route as of Jan 17. (Photo by: Jerold Leblanc)
Cessation of flights to YPR will affect the municipal economy and global trade, P.R. Mayor said

Chamber of Commerce said it will aggressively pursue the resumption of flights to Prince Rupert

Air Canada has suspended flights to Prince Rupert Regional Airport due to COVID-19 mitigation, the airline announced on Jan. 13. (Photo:THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
YPR is not immune to plummeted air travel demands – 25 jobs lost

Prince Rupert Regional Airport flight cancellation will levee significant hardship - Rick Leach

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Most Read