Columbus, OHIO – During the time of year when depression rates are highest, The Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics wants to help parents recognize the symptoms and risk factors for depression in youth.
While depression can affect younger children, it is most commonly seen during adolescence. The AAP recommends pediatricians begin screening children for depression during well child visits at 11 years old. The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation is to screen for depression in teens 12 – 18 years of age.
“Adolescence can be an unsettling time, with many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes causing teens to feel a variety of overwhelming emotions,” said Rebecca Baum, MD, FAAP. “Some growing pains are to be expected as teenagers navigate the challenges of growing up, but it is important for parents to understand and be able to recognize the symptoms of depression so that it can be addressed before it becomes a deeper problem.”
Depression in youth often presents itself differently than it does in adults. The following symptoms, particularly when lasting longer than two weeks, can be an indicator that a child is depressed:
- Frequent vague, non-specific physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches or tiredness
- Frequent absences from school or poor performance and lack of focus in school
- Talk of or efforts to run away from home
- Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability or crying
- Social isolation, poor communication
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Fear of death
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Reckless behavior
In the most severe cases, depression, if untreated, can lead to suicide. According to the Ohio Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics, during 2012 there were 18 suicides for youth ages 5-14 and 177 suicides for youth ages 15-24 in the state of Ohio.
Effective treatment for adolescent depression exists and typically includes some combination of psychotherapy and medication. However, there are many first line strategies that can be helpful in addressing low mood. Promoting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, plenty of sleep, exercise and positive relationships at home and outside the home is the most effective antidote for depression. In addition, parents must work tirelessly to keep the lines of communication open, no matter how hard adolescents work to cut them off. Finally, parents have a responsibility to ensure the home is a safe place for their children by keeping all weapons, medicines (including those purchased without a prescription), and alcohol locked up.
Resources for Parents: