Depression in Children

Covid is no longer news. We have adapted and learnt to live around it. Well, what would be the options? The point is it is here. It has afflicted some worse than others. The impact thereof on peoples lives have been very different. So although there is nothing to generalise about Covid while considering the impact on a particular individual or family, there is a need to stand back and consider one of its more silent victims: children.

Depression in kids often go undetected. They are accepting of the world around them and they don't have a strong idea or expectation of what life should be like. They often exhibit behaviour aimed at not causing or exacerbating problems in the family. It is up to a parent to notice and identify changed moods and behaviour. School performance is normally an easy indicator of problems. The breakdown of structured schooling combined with high levels of stress in the family, have made it far more difficult to detect depressiveness in children. Unfortunately children act like little antennae in terms of emotion stress and problems and pick up on everything in the house. They sadly have little outlet for their emotions and even less support to help them cope with their environment.

Depression amongst children as young as 6 has increased dramatically over the last year and a bit. There are several implications to consider here. There first is surely simply the well-being of your child. A depressed child is an unhappy child. Other than simply making your child unhappy, depression (even moderate depression) has a number of consequences:

  • it can impact severely on schoolwork. This can have a life-long implication.
  • the child may struggle socially at school. It is quite important for the normal development of a child to associate properly socially.
  • depression has a direct bearing on the health of a child.
  • be in itself both the beginning and cause of depression throughout adulthood.
  • impact severely on the problem handling ability of the child and later as an adult.
  • impact on extra-mural activities such as sport.
  • influence self-esteem for the worst.

We as adults often struggle with depression. Theoretically we are able to express our emotions, reason over the circumstances, ask for support from friends and family, access self-help resources and go for professional help. Often, the biggest single encumbering factor with adults is lack of awareness or lack of motivation to do something about it. The sad side effect of depression is that it inherently makes it more difficult to act. Children have none of these resources and are wholly dependent on a parent to look after them, not only on a physical realm, but also on the level of mental health.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • persistent sadness or irritability
  • disturbance of sleep patterns
  • anxiety
  • change in weight
  • less zest
  • more bodily complaints
  • change in appetite
  • drop in academic performance
  • lower self-esteem
  • hopelessness

The higher the stress factors in the home, the better a child should be watched. We sometimes think we hide things from our children by for example putting on a brave face after loosing a job. Or keeping a domestic argument behind closed doors. Underlying, the stress and the anxiety seeps out of us and influences those we are trying to protect. Death, severe illness, depression of the mother (the caregiver to the child), moving home or schools, loosing a pet are all compounding factors. The mere disruption to schooling and not seeing friends due to Covid can play a role in aggrevation.

Look out with a lot of care for your children! Encourage them to express their emotions. Remind your child you are there to support him or her. Reach out for professional help sooner rather than later. Children from a young age can be taught coping techniques and to change the way they interpret and react to stressful events. By changing the way one interprets difficult happenings, one changes one's complete emotional makeup.

Gerhardus Muller 2021-08-01

Westdene, Johannesburg 082 457 5554
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