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 9:00 a.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

Courtenay Nissan’s Matthew Bourassa, Geoff Piper and Sean LaFleur join YANA’s Ashley Smith, Kelly Rusk and Lisa Wilcox for the 4x4x48 event to raise funds. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Courtenay Nissan eats and runs for YANA

Dealership realized non-profit groups need new ways to raise funds during COVID

Rev. Sulin Milne at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Comox is part of those helping distribute food to those in need within the town. Photo by Jim Peacock
Comox church serving the community with food through COVID-19

“We knew there were so many people who were facing economic challenges …”

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Courtenay man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Cole Moore’s sister sets up GoFundMe to help father looking after brother

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Nineteen people arrested, charges expected in Courtenay house raid

Investigators are continuing to comb through evidence seized

Demonstrators gathered Friday, March 5 at the Courtenay Court House, demanding protection of old-growth forests. Scott Stanfield photo
Concerned citizens march in Courtenay in name of old-growth rainforests

The Comox Valley is one of the B.C. communities engaged in mobilization… Continue reading

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ in Metchosin

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Most Read