READERS: This series is meant to coincide with the third season of the Wednesdays With Watson Podcast. This season we are focusing on childhood trauma and mental health in general. Over there you will find stories of Hope, interviews with therapist, and more. It is the mission of the podcast as well as all other mediums is to provide access to help for those who need it.
Depression among children is growing exponentially. The statics over the last five years are staggering. According to a news report published by NBC News. 
“The number of children ages 6-12 who visited children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or self-harm has more than doubled since 2016, according to data from 46 such facilities across the country collected for NBC News by the Children’s Hospital Association, a trade organization.
The association documented 5,485 emergency room or inpatient visits for suicidal thoughts and self-harm among 6- to-12-year-olds at these hospitals in 2019, up from 2,555 in 2016. (Full data isn’t yet available for 2020, but in the first three quarters of the year, there were 3,503 such visits.) Visits for teenagers with suicidal thoughts or self-harm at these hospitals also rose from 2016 to 2019, but at a slower rate — by 44 percent, compared to 115 percent for younger children.”
Treatment facilities all over the country are reporting a marked increase in calls to help lines and are seeking inpatient as well as outpatient treatment for their children. Doctors share parental concern and fears that the pandemic will increase these numbers (especially the loss of a parent to Covid). That concern is founded and we are beginning to identify that in research data.
This leaves parents as their child’s advocate. Since the causation of childhood depression requires a lot of research (and still not widely understood), it’s hard to advocate for your child, but you must. Learning a few key points will help, but it is always a good idea to seek professional help for official diagnosis.
After parents have ruled out other conditions that can mimic symptoms of depression (hormones, medications, normal growing up) it becomes imperative that parents seek professional help. This brings its own challenges (and we will discuss in a later blog), as many times, medication is least tested on children and sometimes, the side effects compound symptoms of depression. Some medications increase suicidal ideations, and must be monitored by healthcare professionals as well as parents. One of the most concerning statistics of late is the rise of suicidal ideation in children. The study did not indicate whether these children were medicated, but side effects from medication should be considered then monitored closely for this most unwanted repercussion.
Understanding and observing your child can and will stretch far into their mental well-being. As we spend this week on depression in children, we will cover symptoms and treatment. However, for the purposes of this blog, let’s hypothesize some reasons we are seeing an increase in childhood depression. Subsequent blogs will help parents manage or find someone who can.
- Twenty-Four Hour access to digital content. As doctors begin to record stated (explicit or otherwise) reasons for depressive symptoms from a post verbal child, Cyber Bullying, Instagram comparisons, and access to information not appropriate for a developing brain is certainly a consideration. It has been said that the amount of electronic information we consume in a day would crash a computer. The young brain is not nearly developed enough for constant digital consumption. It likely stunts IQ and can give the child a distorted view of the real world. Cyberbullying is a real issue, and many childhood suicides happen as a result. Children compare themselves to the InstaPerfect lives of their friends, and suddenly their life doesn’t feel worth much. Parents can take charge of this and should monitor screen time and consider refraining from screen time early in life, as the child’s brain is developing. When your child is on a digital device, consider a software program to monitor usage as well as any nefarious activity whereby bullying is present. Talk to your child, help them understand real life versus the Instagram and Tik Tok life. Consider waiting until ages 13-15 before handing over a pocket sized computer to your child. The lights, beeps, and vibrations activate your child’s brain and could retard normal development, resulting in depression and its friends. They become addicted to their phones which cause sleep issues, and you guessed it, sleep is integral to mental health. This also has the propensity to begin addictive behavior, which causes a host of issues in life.
- Lack of physical exercise and tactile interaction with other children. This is especially true since March of 2020. Some children have yet to experience a normal school year. Young children need interaction with peers and they also have a need for a safe and effective learning atmosphere. Failure to hit academic milestones are a real issue with some children testing a full two years behind academically and socially. As the United States comes to terms with a life with Covid, children are finally back in school, but parents can’t ignore the two years some of them lost. This child could experience symptoms of depression simply based on loneliness and comparing their academic performance with others. Parents should be aware of self esteem issues all leading to depressive symptoms requiring professional help.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder. It has been reported that a child on the spectrum is four times more likely to suffer depression. . This is difficult on parents and health professionals alike, as a child with ASD is as different as they are the same. Children on the spectrum’s depression probably makes the most sense of any of these probable reasons for childhood depression. Doctors are better at treating depression in these patients, because they are beginning to understand the brain and ASD.
- Lacks Basic Needs. Here is where trauma is introduced as a reason for childhood depression. Trauma stunts some parts of the brain, but also creates a superpower of sorts, keeping the child alive (fight or flight). Unmet needs diminishes purpose and retards parts of the brain from emotional regulation. This results in behaviors ranging from behavior problems to suicide in some children in marginalized communities. There are programs all over the country to help with basic needs, especially food insecurity.
- Family Conflict. Doctors also note the affect of family conflict and Adverse Childhood Experiences as a major causation for depression in children. This speaks to basic needs listed above. Children need stability and consistency. When conflict and trauma are present, they experience physical changes to their brains, are convinced they are the problem, and sometimes “fix it” by attempting to take their lives. This is, perhaps, the saddest of all.
One study last year analyzing more than 11,000 9- and 10-year-olds in the United States found that 1.3 percent reported they had tried to kill themselves, while 9.1 percent reported engaging in self-harm. It also concluded that family conflict and financial adversity were significantly associated with suicidal thoughts in these children.
- Genetic History Of Depression this is the most understood, and perhaps provides the most straightforward lane to treatment. However, parents must recognize and treat their own depression. While medication can cause the same side effects in adults, those side affects are more straightforward and easy to manage. Communication with your child is very important as parents normalize a medical condition for their child. Teaching them coping skills and encouraging them to reach out for help is paramount.
The sad reality is that our world has changed and it must change the way we view mental health and we must start with our children. We don’t know why some children are more prone to deep depression and others aren’t. We must pay attention, listen to what your child isn’t telling you.
Next up, symptoms for parents to watch, and when to get help. Follow the blog so you get notified when part 2 goes live.