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7 Myths We Need to Tear Down About Pediatric Depression

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Research shows children, even babies, can experience depression. The clinical term is pediatric depression, and rates are higher now than ever before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), 13 to 20 percent of children will face mental health challenges in a given year. Helping children learn to identify the kinds of feelings, symptoms and approaches early in life can help derail this trajectory. For little ones, bibliotherapy, otherwise known as reading books to learn and heal, has long been known to help parents and children communicate.

What Adults Need to Know About Pediatric Sadness

As a practicing clinician — and someone who has lived with depression since childhood — I’ve spent my life educating others about the textures and uniqueness of depressive disorders. My latest book, “Sometimes When I’m Sad” is completely grounded in research. It is a children’s picture book where each page explores how little ones experience sadness, and ways to help them express and heal such emotions. It also offers parents, teachers and other adults ways to detect sadness and depression in children. For when we learn about the different ways sadness and depression affect children, we can avoid believing the following myths.

1. Sadness looks the same in children as it does in adults.

False. Children often don’t have the verbal language or cognitive savvy to express the textures of sadness. Instead, body symptoms like aches and pains, fatigue and slowness present, as can tearfulness, unrealistic feelings of guilt, isolation and irritability.

2. “Good” parents can always detect if their child is depressed.

False. Most children who struggle with depression keep their thoughts and feelings masked. Little ones may not even understand the depths of their own sadness. The only way for parents to understand chronic sadness and depression is to be aware of age-specific behaviors and symptoms.

3. Chronic sadness will go away on its own.

False. Chronic sadness will likely lead to pediatric depression and cannot be willed away or brushed aside. Ignoring the problem doesn’t help either. Depression is a serious, but treatable illness.

4. Talking about sadness with children can make things worse.

False. I think talking about sadness with your child actually helps to reduce symptoms. Support and encouragement lets children know they’re not alone, are loved and cared for.

5. The risk of suicide for children is greatly exaggerated.

False. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents ages 15 to 24, and one of the leading causes of death in children. Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early diagnosis and treatment of chronic sadness is vital.

6. There are no proven treatments to treat pediatric depression.

False. Studies show talk therapy treatments offer significant improvements for children who experience chronic sadness and depression.

7. Depressed children cannot lead productive lives.

False: Many children with depression can grow up to live full, productive lives. In fact, many high-profile people, including President Abraham Lincoln, writer J.K. Rowlings, artist Michelangelo, actor Harrison Ford, choreographer Alvin Ailey, actress Courteney Cox, entrepreneur Richard Branson, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, rocker Bruce Springsteen and baseball player Ken Griffey, Jr. have been very successful in their chosen professions — despite struggling with depression in their young lives.

Getty image by Nadezhda1906

Originally published: March 13, 2020
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