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Oct.28.2020
 Helping Your Child Manage Depression

Helping Your Child Manage Depression

Depression is a mental health condition that can affect your child's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. If your child has been diagnosed with depression, you may be relieved to know why he or she has acted a certain way. Depression is serious, and getting the right help can help you support your child in getting better. When your child is depressed, do not panic, but also do not minimize the problem.

How to manage lifestyle changes

Managing stress

Stress often plays a role in depression, so it is important to help your child try things to reduce stress (stress reduction techniques). Doing these with your child is most helpful. Techniques may include:
  • Listening to or playing music that you and your child enjoy.
  • Regular daily exercise, such as walking or biking as a family.
  • Practicing self-calming activities, such as:
    • Mindfulness-based meditation. Specialists can provide training. There are meditation apps, too.
    • Centering prayer. Focus on a spiritual word or phrase and repeat it for 5 minutes once or twice a day.
    • Yoga.
  • Deep breathing. To do this:
    • Inhale slowly through the nose.
    • Pause briefly at the top of the inhale.
    • Exhale slowly while relaxing your body.
  • Muscle relaxation. This involves intentionally tensing muscles while holding your breath and then relaxing the muscles while exhaling deeply.

Medicines

Your child's health care provider may prescribe antidepressants to ease the symptoms of depression. A combination of medicine, psychotherapy, and stress reduction techniques may be the most effective treatment for depression.
If you are giving your child a medicine as part of his or her treatment:
  • You and your child may not see much change for 4–8 weeks.
  • Do not stop giving the medicine without first talking to the health care provider. When it is time for your child to stop taking medicine, the health care provider will coach you on how to safely stop the medicine.

Relationships

Encourage your child to talk with you or with other trusted adults, such as a counselor at school or church, or a coach. Your child might also want to talk with friends about his or her feelings. Support is a critical part of dealing with depression. Your child needs to know that he or she is not alone with this problem. You may find that talking with others is helpful for you, also.

How to recognize changes

Everyone responds differently to treatment for depression. After treatment, your child may start to:
  • Have more interest in doing things that he or she used to enjoy.
  • Seem hopeful and happy again, and be less irritable or moody.
  • Have more energy and better mental focus.
  • Have an improved appetite.
If your child's depression does not get better or begins to get worse, watch for these signs:
  • Headaches or an upset stomach.
  • Changes in appetite. Your child may gain or lose weight without trying.
  • Decreased energy levels, or trouble focusing.
  • Changes in sleep habits.
  • Dramatic changes in mood, or getting irritable and angering easily.
  • Avoiding activities that are usually enjoyed. Your child may quit events or extracurricular activities.
  • Thinking or talking about suicide or death.
  • Wanting to be alone and avoiding interaction with others.
Depression does not get better with age, and it may get worse if left untreated. If your child is depressed, it is important to be watchful and take action because your child may not tell you that he or she needs additional help.

Follow these instructions at home:

Activity

  • Have your child practice stress reduction techniques.
  • Every day, be sure to:
    • Spend time as a family in nature.
    • Exercise together as a family, such as by going on a walk or bike ride, or playing an active game.
    • Limit screen time, especially right before bed. Turn off TVs, computers, tablets, and mobile phones.

Lifestyle

  • Have a regular routine for bedtime and waking to help ensure your child's sleep.
  • Give your child a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Do not let your child eat a lot of foods that are high in solid fats, added sugars, or salt (sodium).

General instructions

  • During times of major loss, change, or transition:
    • Be aware of your child's moods and behavior changes. Notify his or her teachers to help them be aware if there is a problem.
    • Talk with your child about how he or she is feeling. Ask about symptoms, and listen and accept what your child says about them.
    • Spend some extra time together. Accept what your child is saying to assure your child that he or she is not weird or different. Being supportive may be the most important step you can take.
    • Make an appointment with a professional who can help. This may include a school counselor or family therapist.
    • Learn as much as you can about childhood depression.
  • Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child's health care provider. Communicate any side effects you may notice.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child's health care provider. This is important.

Where to find support

Talking to others

Although depression is serious, support is available. Sources may include:
  • Suicide prevention and depression hotlines.
  • School counselors, teachers, coaches, or clergy.
  • Friends and family.
  • Support groups.
  • Health care providers.
  • Mental health professionals.

Finances

Insurance providers usually have a panel of mental health providers with whom they have a relationship. Ask for names of specialists who can help.

Therapy and support groups

You can locate counselors or support groups from one of these sources:

Where to find more information

For more information about childhood depression, visit the following websites:

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your child's symptoms do not get better or they seem to get worse.

Get help right away if your child:

  • Has started acting out or having unusual behaviors.
  • Has more dramatic symptoms, such as using alcohol or drugs, or cutting.
If you ever feel like your child may hurt himself or herself or others, or shares thoughts about taking his or her own life, get help right away. You can go to your nearest emergency department or:
  • Call your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.).
  • Call a suicide crisis helpline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is open 24 hours a day in the U.S.
  • Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 (in the U.S.).

Summary

  • Childhood depression is a serious condition, and getting the right help can help you support your child in getting better.
  • The best treatment for depression is a combination of medicine, psychotherapy, and stress reduction techniques.
  • Depression does not get better with age, and it may get worse if left untreated. If your child is depressed, it is important to be watchful and take action because your child may not tell you that he or she needs additional help.
  • If you ever feel like your child may hurt himself or herself, contact emergency services right away.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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