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FOR RELEASE: April 30, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Young Children Get Depressed, Too… Is Your Child At Risk?

You may think that children have no cause to be depressed. But depression is a real illness that can strike children and teens as well as adults. Clinical depression goes beyond sadness or simply having a bad day. Children suffering from clinical depression cannot simply "snap out of it." On May 7, National Childhood Depression Day, health officials at the Child Guidance Program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) are calling attention to the problem of depression in young children.

It is not always easy to identify depression in children. The signs and symptoms may come on abruptly and last for weeks or months. If your child exhibits one or more of these symptoms for weeks or months on end, you should seek professional help to deal with the problem.

  • persistent sadness
  • feeling bored all the time
  • low energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • increased anger, hostility or irritability
  • does not enjoy some of the things he or she used to love doing
  • grades decline or starts having trouble with schoolwork
  • seems to feel hopeless and helpless
  • frequent health complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches that have no physical cause
  • lacks self-esteem
  • has trouble communicating
  • experiences excessive guilt or self-blame
  • is isolated and alienated from family and friends
  • talks about dying or suicide (Teens with depression are at higher risk of committing suicide.)
  • drug or alcohol abuse

Some of the basic facts about childhood depression are:

  • One in five children have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. And up to one in 10 may suffer from a serious emotional disturbance. Seventy percent of these children, however, do not receive mental health services.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in children, affecting three to five percent of school-age children.
  • Teenage girls are more likely to develop depression than teenage boys.
  • Children and teens who have a chronic illness, endure abuse or neglect, or experience other trauma have an increased risk of depression.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year-olds. The number of attempted suicides is even higher.
  • Studies have confirmed the short-term efficacy and safety of treatments for depression in youth.
  • Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attention, learning or conduct disorders are at a higher risk for depression.
  • Four out of every five runaway youth suffer from depression.
  • Clinical depression can contribute to eating disorders. On the other hand, an eating disorder can lead to a state of clinical depression.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for children with depression. These children can benefit from a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression in children and teenagers. Treatment for depression may involve psychological testing, individual or family counseling and a medical referral regarding anti-depressant medication. Optimally, this plan is developed with the family, and whenever possible, the child or adolescent is involved in the decisions.

For more information, contact a psychological clinician at the Child Guidance Program at your local county health department or call the OSDH Child Guidance Program at (405) 271-4477.

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