We Can No Longer Ignore Depression in Our Children

While talking about depression is now acceptable, we always go down a slippery slope when talking about kids' depression. Especially other people's children.
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I was only a block away when the call came out. Although I was working traffic duty at the time, life and death-type incidents required anyone and everyone within the vicinity to respond. A 12-year-old with a gun threatening his mother definitely fitted within that realm.

Upon my arrival, things were not as life threatening as they were originally portrayed. The gun was secured, the 12-year-old calmly sitting on the couch, and the mother very much alive. No life had been lost, but the situation still needed addressing.

The solution? Well, the suspect offered that up for me himself.

"Just take me to jail," he said. The calmness of his statement should have frightened me but having only just got out of the police academy I was still young and signs such as these I didn't recognize.

As a cop who had too much paperwork and follow-up on my plate, the kid seemed to save me some time. A quick trip to the juvenile center and "my" problems were solved. It wasn't until years later after starting to understand depression that the situation involving "his" problems began to bother me.

Depression is there, even if we don't want to see it

I've had my share of dealing with depression, as have 14.8 million other Americans (approximately 6.7% of the population).

This number isn't the scary part. It is reported that 50% of Americans with major depression fail to seek treatment for mental illness. This tells me the percentage of people suffering from depression is probably higher, but not calculated in the overall numbers as it goes unreported.

Just because we may not see it (or recognize it) does not mean depression isn't there. According to an infographic put together by Healthline.com, the number of patients diagnosed with depression increases by approximately 20 percent each year. That's a staggering number.

Depression is no longer taboo

Okay, so depression is still considered by some to be taboo, but we have made great strides over the last decade to break that. People seem to be more willing to openly discuss their own battles with depression, and those who already have a spotlight on them have helped.

Celebrities and other influencers have actually made it easier for us to discuss depression. I don't think any of us will forget about Robin Williams and his battle with depression. His suicide in 2014 kicked off a firestorm of discussion about myths and misconceptions that are normally tagged with depression.

It is this "commercialization" of depression that has made it easier to discuss it in society. Doctor Richard E. Toney, a psychotherapist from Texas, agrees.

"Since it has been more commercialized in the past 10 years, people are more comfortable with communicating about how they feel," says Toney. "Within American Society, there has been an increase in television shows, commercial and other social media platforms that discuss depression."

Depression in adults is a topic that while still taboo, has become easier to discuss over the last few years. But what about our kids?

Time to pay attention to the next generation

While talking about depression is now acceptable, we always go down a slippery slope when talking about kids' depression. Especially other people's children. As a parent, our natural tendency is to protect our children, even to the point where we involuntarily excuse certain behaviors.

While talking about depression is more commonplace, we first need to get to the point where we recognize it exists in children, then acknowledge it when we see those signs.

According to Cole Rucker, CEO of teen depression rehab center Paradigm New York, he says signs are often there but we fail to acknowledge them. "Parents need to trust their instincts. If they feel there is a problem, then they need to address it." He adds that we often dismiss the early warning signs which can lead to the depression getting worse.

So what are the signs? While not an inclusive list, WebMD suggests the following:

•Irritability or anger.
•Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
•Social withdrawal.
•Increased sensitivity to rejection.
•Changes in appetite -- either increased or decreased.
•Changes in sleep -- sleeplessness or excessive sleep.
•Vocal outbursts or crying.

What can we do?

Unfortunately, I'm not a doctor. I can only tell you my experiences with depression and hopefully point you towards the fact that it's there. There are many online resources out there which may help, as well as actual real life doctors who you can consult with (yes, there is more to life than just the internet).

The point is that you must do something. As parents, putting our heads in the sand is not a viable option. One of the best things to do, but often the toughest from a parenting standpoint, is to take your child in for an evaluation where a specialist can make an assessment. "An assessment will determine if it really is a depressive disorder or if another disorder better represents what is going on," says Stephen Hupp, PhD, professor of Clinical Child and School Psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Once you have a diagnosis, treatment is the obvious next step and starts within the child's home.

"Children need to learn coping mechanisms for the feelings and symptoms of depression," says Clinical Psychologist Dr. John Mayer. In his book Family Fit, he talks about how parents can create a lifestyle for their families that help them cope with emotions of all kinds, including depression.

With regard to my "suspect" from years ago, I have no idea how his story ended up. He would be about 30 years old now and I remember his face every time I see warning signs in other kids. I just wish I had known then what I know now.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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