Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: “Childhood depression? Come on now!?!?”

The idea of a child having an emotional or mental health disorder has always been a little tough for Americans to swallow. Oh, I suppose a bit of ADHD, a learning disorder, or separation anxiety is acceptable to most.

But when it comes to a diagnosis of childhood depression, things can get a little dicey.

Before we dive-in to our subject matter let’s clarify two terms. We’ll consider a “child” as someone between the age of three and twelve. And when it comes to “depression,” rather than getting into the minutia of diagnostic criteria, let’s define it as a sub-par mood that in some manner negatively impacts a child’s functioning.

As difficult as it appears to be for most Americans to accept childhood depression, statistics generally cite prevalence at 10%. That’s a lot of kids, don’t you think? And the percentage is based upon a child having at least one bout with depressive symptoms sometime during his/her childhood.

Now, I have to ask – ever hear someone pose this question?

“Come on, how in the heck could a kid be depressed enough to be diagnosed with a mental illness?”

Maybe you’ve expressed the same disbelief.

Actually, a child’s depressive presentation may be grounded in any number of things. But no matter how you slice it, it’s typically a blend of genetic engineering and environmental factors.

Now, could a child’s depressive presentation be purely situational? Sure it could. But let’s keep in mind, for the purposes of this discussion we’re dealing with a depressive spectrum based solely in interruption of functioning. No fine print.

So for our immediate purposes it doesn’t much matter whether a child’s depression is deeply rooted (endogenous) or situational (exogenous). Okay?

Well, why is it so difficult for many Americans to accept a diagnosis of childhood depression? Who really knows for sure, but I’d say it’s likely grounded in one or more of the following…

  • The stigma associated with all of the emotional and mental health disorders
  • Parental denial, especially if the primary caregiver, from whom a child picks-up many of his/her emotional cues, is enduring depression and/or other emotional or mental health situations
  • Parental denial regarding having overloaded their child with expect and scheduling
  • A lack of understanding of psychiatric disorders on the part of many pediatricians, to whom most parents first turn for counsel and diagnosis
  • Misunderstanding of symptomatology because childhood depression doesn’t look exactly like adult depression
  • The resistance of insurance companies to embrace the emotional and mental health disorders without regard to age, and provide adequate coverage
  • The inability of a child to accurately express his/her feelings
  • Equating a diagnosis of depression to the prescribing of psychotropic medications
  • Your thoughts???

News flash, everyone – whether we want to face it, or not, childhood depression is real. And aside from biological factors, it isn’t too difficult to understand why it’s coming to the fore in this day and age.

Think for a moment about what our children may be dealing with. Let’s see – single parent homes with the parent frequently absent because of work, a barrage of highly detrimental media influence, incredible peer pressure, unrealistic parental expectations, and so much more.

Is it any wonder 10% of our children present with symptoms that place them somewhere along the depressive spectrum?

I am not advocating an arbitrary labeling of children with a psychiatric diagnosis. I’ve seen the damage done to so many children by the outing of the learning disorder label. And I’m not calling for a pill for every child. The subject of psychotropic medications for children merits its own discussion.

My only mission is to enlighten the general public regarding a very real public health situation occurring within a specific and vulnerable population.

And if we don’t come to a measure of enlightenment and acceptance, so many children will continue to suffer needlessly.

We need you chipur readers. Won’t you share your feelings and thoughts in a comment?