Youth Depression: How Can We Support our Kids?

Youth Depression: How Can We Support our Kids?

“‘All of a sudden I don’t feel like the norm. I feel cold, not warm. My brain’s like a storm’… Lilly the dog wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do. She hated seeing Benny the bunny so blue.” — Bunny & Doggo: Friends Fight Depression, written by Matt Christensen and illustrated by Leilani “Ducky” Banayos

Benny, like a growing number of us, feels scared and uncertain, “stuck in the muck of [a] depressing black cloud.”

Depression and anxiety have doubled among young people during the pandemic. Literature suggests that 25% of children – 1 in 4 – are experiencing significant depressive symptoms.

“Since the pandemic started two years ago, there has been almost twice as many kids being treated for depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Emily Mudd, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist with Cleveland Clinic’s Children’s and mother of two.

“From a neurochemical standpoint, depression and anxiety are closely related. Underlying causes contribute to both. More often than not, if you have one, then you are likely to have the other.”

“Depression was previously more rare in younger children, but with stressors and the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant increase in ages 6 to 12, even younger.” She stresses the need for parent and teacher education, as “more younger children are visiting emergency rooms with increasing intensity and frequency of symptoms.”

Risk Factors

Some children are more vulnerable to the mental health effects of the pandemic. “Younger children experiencing more depressive symptoms often have risk factors,” she explains. “Biochemical reasons include family history and genetics, such as a parent or close relative with depression.”

“Early childhood trauma — which could include abuse, the loss of someone close to them, or bullying at school — can all make changes in the brain, leaving the child more susceptible to depression. Other risk factors include issues impacting self-esteem, peer problems, academic problems or kids who feel different from their peers.”

She says the pre-teen years are an especially sensitive time, when kids pick up on how they are different from peers. She advises watching for symptoms particularly in children with learning or other disabilities, ADHD or any chronic physical illness.

“Being in middle school is really hard,” Mudd says. “From a developmental standpoint, ages 10 to 12 is the hardest time to be alive. The social-emotional and cognitive brain is growing exponentially, and social challenges are really difficult. Leaving elementary school and coming back to middle school is a huge change. Acknowledge it is hard, validate their feelings, and make a connection.”

Warning Signs and Where to Turn “Look for low self-esteem, withdrawing from family, changes in behavior and functioning, and changes in academic success,” Mudd says. “Is your child acting differently at home? For example, instead of coming […]

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