By Wilma Bedford
There is currently a worldwide increase in depression, anxiety and suicide amongst children and teenagers. Depression affects your thoughts, mood and body and can even occur in young children. Parents and caretakers should therefore take the condition seriously.
Approximately one in five children suffer from a mental illness. More than 50% of cases begins before the age of 14 years. According to information provided by the Western Cape government, some children as young as 7 have committed suicide. 9% of teenage deaths are attributed to depression.
Not all children of teenagers with depression tries to commit suicide but the most of those who attempt suicide are depressed.
According to an analysis done in 2018 by the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention 3,2% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 was diagnosed with depression in the USA, which is apparently an underestimation since only 50% of depressed teenagers are diagnosed before they reach adulthood.
These statistics are very upsetting, and no parent wants their child to endure mental pain. Even if it is difficult to understand what your child is going through, there are some things parents and caretakers can do to support and help their children.
The symptoms of depression can be treated and 80% of those who suffer can be cured, especially with enough support and loving caretakers. The child should not be stigmatised or punished for behaviour that result from depression. Many young children do not have the ability to communicate their emotions. Older children may feel embarrassed or worried that they might get in trouble.
However, depression cannot, just like a physical illness, only be cured with love and discipline. It is a complex illness that requires professional help and treatment. Parents and caretakers can do, however, is pay attention to how they treat such children and teens and pay attention to what to say and what not to say.
Try the following:
- When you notice any behavioural changes or warning signs, ask your child what is bothering him or her.
- If there are signs of depression, ask whether he or she is considering suicide.
- Encourage your child to remain busy and do things that makes him or her feel better.
- Help your child to set realistic goals.
- Always be there for him or her.
- Listen to everything he or she wants to say. Be an attentive listener.
- Take everything he or she says seriously.
- Do not blame your child. It is not their fault.
- Ensure your child that it is the right thing to talk to you.
- Try not to promise to keep it a secret.
- Teach your child to be self-sufficient and confident.
- Do not leave your child to solve the problem by him- or herself.
- Get your child to become involved with outdoors activities and expand their friendship circle.
- Talk to your child’s teachers and principle if your child is bullied.
Do not try to talk some out of committing suicide. Emphasise that depression can be treated and that problems can be solved, and that he or she as an individual is not a failure.
Do not say the following:
- You have so much to live for.
- Just imagine how it will affect us.
- Keep your head up.
- It is all in your head.
- Do not worry.
- It is not such a big thing.
- There is nothing to be afraid of.
- I do not know what you need.
- You need to get more sleep!
- Stop thinking about it.
- You will be fine.
A professional person can provide your child with the necessary therapy and medication they will need. As with any other treatment, make sure he or she attends their sessions and take the medication as prescribed.
To be a parent is difficult, especially if you have a child suffering from depression. It takes time and exercise to deal with it. Get professional help to provide your child with the tools he or she needs to overcome it and do your best to act with empathy and compassion when he or she approaches you for help and support.
Where to get help:
The Department of Social Development: 0800 220 250.
Suid-Afrikaanse Depressie- en Angsgroep suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567
10 things never to say to your anxious child.
Talking down: What not to say when your child is dealing with depression.
Depression in children: What to know.
Zawn Villines & Caroline Kay
Anxiety, depression and adolescent suicide.
Western Cape Government.