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Our Kids are sad:Depression is an epidemic amongst our youth.
In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the increasing rates of depression among children and adolescents. The mental health of our young ones is of the utmost importance. As parents, its crucial for us to understand not only what is behind this sadness, but actionable steps we can take to support our children through these struggles.
Let’s start with the percentage of our children who are actually depressed.
The above graph shows youth who have experienced a severe major depressive episode in 2018.
What is a major depressive episode?
There are all kinds of acronyms.
MDE: major depressive episode which is a period of two weeks or longer in which a person experiences symptoms of major depression.
MDD: major depressive disorder which is an episodic illness, some people can experience this just once in their lifetime.
DMDD: Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is primarily seen in children and adolescents and usually manifests as persistent irritability and anger with frequent and intense temper outbursts. This is considered a chronic illness.
PDD: persistent depressive disorder which is a mild or moderate depressive state that does not go away. This is also considered a chronic illness.
Many diagnoses of depression require 4 or more persistent symptoms.
Here is a list of common symptoms that indicate depression.
- Feeling low, sad, or hopeless
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Anxiety (although anxiety and depression are different, nearly 50% of those diagnosed with depression also have an anxiety disorder)
- Irritability or frustration
- Fatigue or low energy
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Trouble concentrating or remembering
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Moving or talking more slowly than usual
- Loss of interest in living
- Aches and pains that do not have an obvious physical cause
Should you be concerned if your child has “only” experienced one depressive episode?
Research says that most people do not experience “only” one episode, usually. So, in my opinion, yes, you should be concerned enough to take actionable steps at home to make mental health a priority.
10.6% of all youth (over 2.5 million) in the US cope with major depression.
Something is “wrong” with our world in a way, that we as parents need to find solutions to support our children through these times
What causes depression in our children and what can we do about it?
Kids are social creatures.
They want to have place where they feel that they belong.
For some children, this is with a large group. for others, just one friend will meet this need.
However, it seems to be a universal need that our children have time to physically connect and interact with at least one other person.
When they do not, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and sadness often happen which are precursors to depression.
Actionable Steps to Social Isolation:
Understand the causes
Why is your child often alone?
Do they have social anxiety or do they not have the opportunity to be around others very often?
These are two completely different reasons that would need to be addressed differently.
If your child simply does not have the opportunity try: joining sports teams or a club, attend community events, schedule playdates (or if older “get togethers),
If your child has social anxiety, try to alleviate their worries first: teach social skills: model social behavior, actually teach your child how to greet others and initiate conversation, practice active listening and empathy, teach how to share and take turns, and teach what kindness looks like towards others.
Social Media: Digital Overload
One significant factor contributing to the rising percentage of children experiencing social isolation is the pervasive influence of social media and excessive screen time. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to social media platforms can negatively impact self-esteem, body image, and overall mental health.
The 24 hour news cycle and “click bait” or “fear bait” that our children are subject to, also creates anxiety and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness for their future.
Actionable Steps for Social Media and Digital Overload:
- Encourage off line activities and hobbies
- Promote face-to-face events and interests
- Set screen-time limits and digital devices boundaries, for example, no screens while eating or before bed.
- Keep the lines of communication open about what children are potentially seeing and hearing on social medial.
- Help children develop critical thinking skills to navigate the digital onslaught.
- Stop the 24 hour news cycle: do not encourage your children to “always” be plugged in, even to “news”.
- There is good, help your child not only see the good in the world but to focus on it.
- Worries, troubles, and problems are the world of adults, along with bills. Help your child embrace being a child and keep the “doomsday” talk away from the kids.
*I am not saying children should not have a realistic view of the world, what I am saying is that when you only hear a litany of awful and negative things, your view becomes negative. Also, children have no control, at all, over their world.
They should not be forced to grow up and take on the problems of it, they should still be learning to love each other and get along and play nice.
Bullying and peer pressure have a huge impact on a child’s metal health.
Remember the child just wants to belong, be liked, and be understood, even it is with just one person.
One of the scariest times in school (I maintain), is lunch. It is devastating to sit down ad eat all by yourself.
It seems that there is a flashing sign that says “no one wants to be my friend,” over your head.
When you add this isolation to actually being targeted by bullies, it is disastrous for children.
Bullying can happen both in person and online.
Bullying can occur in kindergarten or as a senior in high school.
Be aware of your child’s social relationships.
Bullying often leads to low self esteem, anxiety, fear, sadness and slides into deep depression.
Actionable Steps to Bullying
- Encourage your child to be the “anti-bully” and teach empathy, kindness, and inclusivity.
- Encourage conversations about bullying and allow your child to have their feelings. Explore the reason for the way your child feels (instead of an immediate response of right and wrong).
- Ask your child to help you create an anti-bullying policy, what would this look like? how would it work?
Lack of Emotional Support
We have recognized that our children are hurting emotionally.
Mental health is no longer in the shadows nor it it whispered about with shame.
We have to do more than recognize that there is an issue, we as adults have to get help for our children.
In 2018, 60.3% of the youth with major depression did not receive ANY mental health treatment.
Even in states where access for mental health for youth is the best in the nation, one in three children remained untreated.
Actionable Steps for Lack of Emotional Support
- Find a professional your child will relate to.
- Create a nurturing and safe home environment.
- Encourage communication at home.
- The biggest and most impactful step, in my opinion, to creating a safe home space is to removing all sarcasm and teasing from your home.
- Create a safe and reliable circle of support for your children.
- Foster strong relationships within the family.
- Teach emotional intelligence strategies to provide tools for managing difficult emotions.
Self -Esteem Boosting
Positive Affirmations for kids
There are 36 heart cut outs.
- You can choose the ones you love and use one ach day of the month.
- Each one starts with Today... to center your child on what to focus on this day.
- Example: Today... I am good at solving problems
36 Self-Esteem Boosting Positive Affirmations
My child is not showing signs of depression: I just want to keep them happy
Here is a quick checklist, that is not subject specific, of actionable steps you can do at home to help your child be resilient and not fall into depression.
- Emotional awareness: Teach children to identify and label their emotions. Encourage them to express their feelings through words, drawings, or journals. This helps build self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
- Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Introduce simple mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. These practices can help children calm their minds and bodies during stressful situations.
- Healthy lifestyle habits: Promote healthy habits like regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet. Physical well-being has a significant impact on mental health.
- Problem-solving skills: Teach children problem-solving techniques, such as breaking down problems into smaller parts, brainstorming solutions, and considering the consequences of different actions. Encourage them to approach challenges with a positive mindset and explore different perspectives.
- Social support: Encourage children to maintain healthy relationships and foster social connections. Support them in developing friendships, participating in group activities, and seeking support from trusted individuals when needed.
- Positive self-talk: Help children cultivate positive self-talk by challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with affirming and realistic statements. Teach them to reframe situations in a more positive light.
- Creative outlets: Encourage children to engage in creative activities, such as drawing, painting, writing, or playing music. These outlets can serve as a means of self-expression and emotional release.
- Time management and organization: Teach children time management skills to help them prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and manage their responsibilities effectively. Being organized can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
- Encourage problem sharing: Create an open and supportive environment where children feel comfortable sharing their concerns and seeking help when needed. Validate their feelings and provide reassurance that it’s okay to ask for support.
- Limit screen time: Set limits on screen time and encourage children to engage in outdoor activities, hobbies, and social interactions. Excessive screen time has been linked to increased anxiety and depressive symptoms in children.
- Promote self-care: Teach children the importance of self-care and self-compassion. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, practice relaxation techniques, and take breaks when needed.
- Seek professional help if needed: If you notice persistent signs of anxiety or depression in your child despite your efforts, consider consulting a mental health professional. They can provide additional support and guidance tailored to your child’s specific needs.
It breaks our hearts, as parents, when our children are sad. We have a vital role to play in supporting our children’s mental health. By understanding the reasons behind this epidemic of depression among our kids and taking proactive steps, we can create a nurturing environment that promotes emotional well-being at home. Let’s rise to the challenge of improving our children’s mental health, empowering them with resilience, and guiding them towards a happier and healthier future.
“I was so upset, I forgot to be happy.”
Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh