Michele Borba Blog: 1 in 20 kids now depressed: Know signs that could save a child

Michele Borba March 2, 2010 Comments Off on Michele Borba Blog: 1 in 20 kids now depressed: Know signs that could save a child

Always moody.

Easily agitated.

Sleeps in.

Says, “Nobody cares.”

Sounds like a typical teen, right?  Well not always.

Did you know that depression now strikes one out of 20 teens? What’s more, the rates of childhood depression are not only increasing but are also impacting younger kids. A kid today is ten times more likely to be seriously depressed compared to a child born in the first third of this century. This week the tragic news of the suicides of about Marie Osmond’s 18 year old son as well as Growing Pains Andrew Koenig, are stirring reminders as to the seriousness of depression. Both should be sad wake up calls.

How serious is child and adolescent depression?

Depression now impacts nearly two million tweens and teens and those troubling stats are exactly why  an influential government-appointed medical panel is urging doctors to routinely screen all American teens for depression. The task force’s recommendations appear in the prestigious journal, Pediatrics.

Clinical depression is not a phase or a normal stage of development, nor something kids can shrug off. It is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease, and the long-term consequences are just too severe to ignore.

The best news is when diagnosed early and properly treated, kids almost always can be helped and feel better. Evidence also shows detailed but simple questionnaires can accurately diagnose depression. Those questionnaires are available in a primary-care setting such as a pediatrician’s office.

The bottom line here is that every kid feels sad and moody from time to time, but this kind of behavior should have a time limit. If you even have an ounce of concern, pick up the phone and get an appointment for your child. Here are signs to look for in your child.

Possible signs of depression that should not be overlooked

1.     An increase in physical ailments. Headaches, stomachaches, nausea, sweaty palms, sleeplessness or always sleeping that don’t lessen with over-the-counter medication and rest.

2.     A  marked, sudden, or intense change. Something is radically different about your child’s personality, temperament, or normal behavior that just is not right.

3.     It doesn’t go away. This lasts longer than two weeks, becomes more intense, or just comes and goes, and nothing is easing your child’s pain.

4.     Your child is preoccupied with death or feelings of hopelessness. He is drawing, writing or asking about death, giving away personal belongings, or saying “What’s the use?”

5.     The sadness interferes with her daily life. Her social, academic or family life are affected.

6.     Folks who know your child well share their concerns. Don’t dismiss their remarks.

7.     Your child tells you something is wrong and wants help. Trust him.

8.     Your instinct says something is not right. Trust your instinct. Chances are you’re right.

Where to get help for your child

If the problem seems to accelerate out of control and your child is saying scary things, or  you have any thought that your child is suicidal, DO NOT WAIT. Call the USA National Suicide hotline: 800-784, 2433 or 800 273-8255 and take him to the nearest emergency room or to your doctor’s office immediately. Please. NOW!

I post this blog two or three times a year. And two or three times a year I always have parents contact me to say, “If only…” They knew something was wrong with their child but waited. Please don’t wait. Please act on your instinct. Get help.

This blog is an excerpt from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries by Michele Borba (Jossey-Bass, Aug. 2009). In particular refer to the following chapters for late-breaking research, solutions, and signs: Angry, Perfectionist, Stressed, Worried About the World, Depressed, Eating Disorders.

Resources used in this blog:


Yale Medical School study depressed youngsters three to four times more likely to have drug or alcohol problems by mid-20s: M. Elias, “Kids and Depression: Are Drugs the Answer?” USA Today, Nov. 30, 1999, p. 2A.

One in 10 children who develop depression prior to puberty commit suicide: M. Elias, “Kids and Depression: Are Drugs the Answer?” USA Today, Nov. 30, 1999, p. 2A.

When treated early almost all children can be helped: W. R. Beardless and Stuart Goldman, “Living Beyond Sadness,” Newsweek, Sept. 22, 2003, p. 70.