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FOR RELEASE: May 1, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Depression Among Young Children Increasing

As many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents may have depression, according to health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). Once a young person has experienced a major depression, he or she is at risk of developing another depression within the next five years.

May 8 is set aside to recognize Childhood Depression Awareness Day and help parents recognize the signs of childhood depression. Sometimes traumatic events in the child's life, such as divorce, natural disasters, child abuse/neglect, death in the family, or social problems may trigger episodes of depression.

“You may think that children have no cause to be depressed, however, depression is a real illness that can strike children and teens as well as adults. Clinical depression goes beyond sadness. It's not having a bad day or a personal weakness. Children suffering from clinical depression cannot simply snap out of it,” said Dr. Edd D. Rhoades, Interim Deputy Commissioner for Family Health Services. “There is concern that two-thirds of children with mental health problems do not get the help they need,” Rhoades said.

Other disturbing statistics released by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) show that suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, (approximately 5,000 young people), and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 15-year-olds. Also, the rate of suicide for 5- to 24-year-olds has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college-age youth.

Health professionals warn that the signs of depression are not easy to identify in children. 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

“Parents should not ignore the warning signs of depression. The reasons kids suffer from depression are not that they are bad kids or you raised them wrong; they are just ill. They should be treated for that illness the same way you would have them treated for the flu or a broken leg,” Rhoades said.

If parents or adults in a young person's life suspect a problem with depression, they should note the behaviors and how long they last, as well as their frequency and severity; share concerns with the child and listen; see a mental health professional for evaluation and treatment; and consult their family medical doctor, clergy, school counselor, or a trusted family member. Also, parents should get accurate information from libraries, hotlines and other sources and ask questions about treatments and services. Treatment for depression may involve psychological testing, individual or family counseling and a medical referral regarding anti-depressant medication.

For more information about childhood depression and its prevention and treatment, contact a psychological clinician with the child guidance program at the county health department in your area, or call the State Health Department's Child Guidance Program at (405) 271-4477.


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