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Depression in Children

Can children experience depression?
Childhood depression has become more of a topic in mental health over the past decade or so. The medications used to treat depression in children have undergone a great deal of scrutiny due to overprescribing and possible serious side effects from their use.

Depression in children and adolescents is associated with poor psychosocial functioning, high psychiatric comorbidity, risk of recurrent episodes or onset of bipolar disorder. These findings emphasize the importance of early identification of children and adolescents having elevated risk for future depression and further development, evaluation and greater availability of prevention strategies. Familial risk for depressive disorders involves both genetic and psychosocial factors. Marital discord, poor communication and dysfunctional parenting practices are often present in families with affective disorders and can be implicated in increased depressive vulnerability in the offspring.

Research on individual vulnerability in children and adolescents has focused on temperamental and cognitive characteristics. Temperament traits describe individual differences in reactivity and behavior. High emotionality, defined as the tendency to become upset easily and intensely has been associated with an increased risk for subsequent major depression. However, as the majority of high scorers will not become depressive cases, emotionality should not be the only criterion for selection of at-risk populations. Cognitive style including poor self esteem, low social competence and negative attributions are also associated with increased likelihood of depressive symptoms. (source: Encephale. 2002 May-Jun;28(3 Pt 1):234-40.

It can be difficult to pinpoint whether you're child suffers from depression or is going through a phase. The best way to identify depressive disorders in children is to have the child examined by their pediatrician. After an evaluation, the physician can recommend an appropriate course of action which can include visiting a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Make sure that you ask a lot of questions and play an active role in helping your child.

Example questions: - What are the therapist's qualifications?
- What kind of therapy will the child have?
- Will the family as a whole participate in therapy?
- Will my child's therapy include an antidepressant? If so, what might the side effects be?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has identified the use of medications for depression in children as an important area for research. The NIMH-supported Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPPs) form a network of seven research sites where clinical studies on the effects of medications for mental disorders can be conducted in children and adolescents.

Among the medications being studied are antidepressants, some of which have been found to be effective in treating children with depression, when properly monitored by the child's physician. Several countries throughout the world have recommended against certain medications so getting a second opinion can be valuable.

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References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health

last update: February 2009

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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