by: Dr. Darren Scoggin

Depression has emerged as a leading cause of disability and death among adolescents. Depression affects boys more than girls prior to puberty, but girls are affected more than boys during the teen years and onward. Some studies indicate that as many as ten percent of adolescents suffer from clinical depression. The incidence as risen in recent years, prompting some to suggest an impact of media on this trend.

Symptoms of depression vary in childhood and adolescence and may include prolonged or severe periods of sadness, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, loss of interest in activities, lack of energy, lack of motivation, trouble focusing, or thoughts of harming oneself. Some of these symptoms may be normal in the periods of ups and downs during normal development, but when these symptoms are severe or persistent, they may be a sign of clinical depression.

Parents can encourage their children or teens to have positive mental health by promoting healthy eating by exercise and by having an open atmosphere within the family for sharing thoughts and feelings. Children and teens who bullied by their peers are more likely to experience depression and suicidality. Have open discussions with your child about the pervasiveness of bullying, the harms that it may have on other individuals, and encourage them to have a way of reporting or dealing with bullying when it occurs.

If you suspect your child or teen may be depressed, the first step is to talk to him or her. Broad questions like “Are you OK?” may not be sufficient for them to open up about their feelings. Asking specific questions regarding their mood is one way to find out more information. If you suspect depression, contact your child’s physician to discuss this further and pursue treatment options. If your child is actively having thoughts of self-harm, the best (and safest) option is to call 911 or take him or her to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. For less acute issues, there are a number of counseling centers in the area, many of which specialize in childhood and adolescent mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.