Peter's parents broke up. His mum got custody, and got depressed, dad got mad and got out and Peter, as you could guess, got both mad and depressed and got the tummy aches that wore his inner pain. Later on dad and his new partner asked to have Peter for the holidays. Many solicitor bills later it happened, it worked well and Peter asked his mum if he could stay. Mum threatened to get rid of his dog, Sally, if he didn't come back. So back came the tummies, tears and even suicide threats.
Fortunately his step-mum stepped in. She got a stay of execution on the grounds of intestinal insanity and we thought he was on the mend. Unfortunately I had another call the other day, not from Peter but from welfare to say that Peter's gone back home to his mum and the tummy aches have come back.. when will some parents learn that no matter how much they've been hurt unless they handle divorce sensibly, they don't really untie the knot, they just shift it!
But family discord and divorce is only one of the many reasons why depression in children is on the rise with predictions that it is going to be the biggest killer of our kids by 2020. Depression may take different forms with twice as may girls being diagnosed with depression as males. More males than females talk down but act out their depression with bullying, risk taking, aggression, defiance, rebellion and non co-operation. More females than males talk up but act down their depression with features such as sustained sadness, loss of fun, loss of energy, loss of interest in relationships, and feeling sick.
- feels worthless
- seems and looks sad
- talks about killing himself/herself
- sulks a lot
- cries a lot
- needs to be perfect
- tries to hurt himself/herself
- anxious about everything
- feels no-one loves him/her
- feels everyone picks on him/her
- feels a sense of hopelessness or helplessness
- feelings of boredom
- depressed emotions or body language
- preoccupation with death
- feels guilty about everything
- very self conscious
- worries that he/she might do something bad
- lonely and feels he/she has no friends
- very nervous
If your child is showing strong symptoms on more than 6 of these then chances are that he/she is depressed and in need of help. Get a medical check up, if that’s all clear get a perception check up (ie what do teachers, friends and family members think). It may also be worth checking where and when it’s occurring as that could give vital clues. Finally do a home tone check up, check out whether things like family friction, parental depression, parental preoccupation, or favouritism could be an issue.
Here are some strategies to help.
Dr John Irvine
- spend time with each child each day so they can offload their problems before they become depressing
- make sure everyone in the family knows that you love them; tell them often and show it often, in action not just in gifts or they’ll be more interested in money than mummy
- exercise has been shown to be a major counter to depression
- if your kids are involved in regular and enjoyable physical activity, that will engender the endorphins in the brain to help shift the depressive cloud
- social glue is what bonds each of us to this earth
- if your kids can find their niche in groups or activities that link them up with others, then they’re hooked into life
- it often shifts their self image from ugly duckling to beautiful swan that had been swimming all alone or in the wrong pool.
- some kids catastrophise
- some little set-back sees the nosedive into depression (nothing works, they’re no good at anything, they knew this would happen because only bad things happen to them). Mentally exercise with them – using imagination to think of positive fill-ins for gaps in information rather than negative – and make it a habit.
- Finally have a good hard look at how the family is working on the child’s RESILIENCE. Studies have found that it’s not the pressure on the individual that is the overload but the person’s resilience under pressure! Resilient kids tend to be optimistic, they don’t just live the problem but actively try to solve it, they are alert and not overly dependent on others. This critical facet for survival comes from many directions. Kids tend to be more resilient if they live in hopeful, helpful and connected communities. Kids tend to be resilient if their families are hopeful and optimistic and have taught their kids some of the following: how to resolve problems. Like most things resilience is one of those things that is more caught than taught.