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    How to Help Your Child Cope with Depression

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    Apr.25.2023
    Helping Your Child Manage Depression

    Helping Your Child Manage Depression

    Depression is a serious mental health condition that can affect your child's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Getting the proper treatment can help your child to feel better.

    How to manage lifestyle changes

    Managing stress

    Stress is the body's reaction to life changes and events, both good and bad. Stress often plays a role in depression. 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.
    • Getting regular daily exercise, such as walking or biking as a family.
    • Practicing self-calming activities with your child, 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 your nose. Pause at the top of your inhale for a few seconds and then exhale slowly, letting yourself relax. Repeat this three or four times.
    • Muscle relaxation. This involves intentionally tensing muscles while holding your breath and then relaxing the muscles while exhaling deeply.
    • Having your child spend less time using electronics, especially at night before bed. The light from screens can make your child's brain think it is time to get up rather than go to bed.

    Medicines

    Your child's health care provider may prescribe antidepressants. 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:
    • 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. If it is time for your child to stop taking medicine, the health care provider will tell you how to do this safely.

    Relationships

    Encourage your child to talk with you or other trusted adults, such as a counselor at school, religious community members, or a coach. Your child might also want to talk with friends. Support is critical. Your child needs to know that they are not alone. 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 they used to enjoy.
    • Seem hopeful and happy, and be less irritable.
    • 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:
    • Changes in appetite or an upset stomach. Your child may gain or lose weight without trying.
    • Decreased energy levels, headaches, or trouble focusing.
    • Changes in sleep habits.
    • Dramatic changes in mood, or getting irritable and angry easily.
    • Avoiding activities they usually enjoy. 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 they need help.

    Follow these instructions at home:

    An adult talking to a young child.

    Activity

    An adult and child going on a walk.
    • Have your child practice stress reduction techniques.
    • Every day, try to:
      • Spend time together in nature.
      • Exercise together, 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 up.
    • Give your child a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein. Limit foods high in solid fats, added sugar, or salt (sodium).

    General instructions

    • During times of major loss, change, or transition:
      • Be aware of your child's moods and behavior changes. Let teachers know.
      • Talk with your child about how they are feeling. Ask about symptoms, and listen to your child.
      • Spend some extra time together. Accept what your child is saying to assure your child that they are not weird or different. Being supportive may be the most important step you can take.
      • Make an appointment with a professional, such as 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. Tell your child's health care provider about any side effects.
    • Keep all follow-up visits. The health care provider will need to check on your child's mood, behavior, and medicines. Your child's treatment may need to be changed over time.

    Where to find support

    Talking to others

    Support 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

    • Talk with your health care provider if you are worried about access to food, housing, or medicine.
    • Ask your insurance provider for names of in-network specialists.

    Therapy and support groups

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

    Where to find more information

    For more information visit:

    Contact a health care provider if:

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

    Get help right away if:

    • Your child has started acting out or having unusual behaviors.
    • Your child is using alcohol or drugs, or cuts themselves.

    Get help right away if you feel like your child may hurt themselves or others, or if they have thoughts about taking their own life. Go to your nearest emergency room or:
    • Call 911.
    • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 988. This is open 24 hours a day.
    • Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

    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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