Depression in children and adolescents is a very important subject, it is more important than most people think. In earlier times, it was thought that children could not suffer from depression, so they were not tested for it. Now days it is evident that children and adolescents can suffer from this mental disorder. In an article derived from the Medline Plus website, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) stated that depression has been starting at earlier ages in recent decades and early depression in life often, persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood. The NIMH also said that more than 3 million children under 13 years of age in the U.S. suffer from depression. The clinical signs that a child might be experiencing depression are: feeling unhappy, being distant from friends, not participating in usual activities, getting poor grades, having low self-esteem, constantly being irritable, crying often, having sleeping problems, experiencing appetite changes, loss of energy, fatigue, lack of motivation, and guilty feelings.
A startling fact given by the NIMH is that 2.5 percent of children and up to 8.3 percent of adolescents experience depression in the United States. Numbers do not lie, but they might be miscounted. During a doctor visit, it only takes about 15 to 30 minutes for a physician to assess whether or not a child has depression. The most common assessment tool used by doctors to determine if a child has depression is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4 (DSM4). This manual is full of questions for the physician to ask the child that is being diagnosed; these questions are directly related to the clinical signs of depression. The most common questions to be asked are: whether they have been eating less or overeating; if they are experiencing insomnia or hyperinsomnia; if they feel low energy or fatigue; if they have low self-esteem or feelings of hopelessness; if their concentration is poor; if it is difficult for them to make decisions; and if they have ever had suicidal thoughts. For a physician to diagnose a child as depressed, the child has to fit at least two of the conditions above for at least one year.
The short time spent on diagnosing a child for depression and the simplicity of the criterias used makes me wonder if these assessments are really valid. Since feelings of hopelessness and fatigue happen at some point in time to almost everyone, I do not know if this test is accurate. It could be, but I think more time should be spend on diagnosing the patient; because a false diagnosis can lead a normal child to believe he is suffering from depression. If a mentally stable child is told he has depression and is treated like a depressed individual, a self-fulfilling prophecy might happen where the child who started out fine might end up being clinically depressed. His brain could start believing he has depression and a placebo effect would take place, actually turning him into a depressed person. Still depression is a serious matter and even thought some children diagnosed as clinically depressed might not actually be suffering from it, all cases should be taken seriously; because more and more depressed individuals are ending their lives in suicide. A startling fact given by the NIMH was that in 1996, suicide was the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. An even more shocking fact is that in that same year, suicide was the fourth leading cause among 10-14 year olds in the United States. Depression is definitely not a pleasant mind state and it should always be taking seriously, fortunately now days there are counselors and hotlines that are willing to help a depressed child or adolescent.