About depression - youth
Myths about depression
Depression is a sign of a weak character
NOT TRUE The fact is that depression can strike anyone. While some particular personality types are more likely to develop depression, the vast majority of people who develop the condition have been previously healthy and not had major difficulties.
People with depression can just “snap out of it” or just choose to “pull their socks up”
NOT TRUE One of the most disabling symptoms of depression is the fact that it saps the will and makes doing anything an enormous effort. Depression is an extremely unpleasant experience, and most people with this condition would (and do) do anything to get well. Children and young people will not “grow out of it” without support, and it is not just a phase.
What causes depression?
While the exact cause of depression is not known, depression is believed to result from the interaction of neurobiological, genetic and environmental factors.
Factors that make young people and children vulnerable to depression include:
- Having a sensitive or anxious temperament
- Having a parent who suffers from depression, or a family history of depression (genetic predisposition)
- Traumatic life events, like the loss of a loved one, experiences of abuse and neglect, or living in chronically stressful environments
- Stressful life events, like the break-up of parents, pressures at school, learning difficulties, being bullied, relationship break-ups, or problems with friends
- Social isolation, i.e., having no friends or family that they feel connected to
- Having chronic and severe medical conditions
- Imbalance of hormones
- Certain medications can cause depression in some people
How the doctor determines if your child has depression (diagnosis)
There are pen-and-paper tests for depression. However, usually a diagnosis is made by the doctor or clinical psychologist based on whether the child or young person has some or all of the typical symptoms, and the length of time they have had them.
For this reason, it’s important that your doctor spends time with you and your child to get a full understanding of the difficulties they have had.
While depression could be responsible for the symptoms listed above, the same picture can be seen with the depressed phase of bipolar affective disorder and also in some medical conditions. This is why it’s important your doctor excludes these conditions.
Note: Over the age of 16, young people are treated as adults in terms of consent for assessment and treatment. Below this age, caregivers (usually parents, but sometimes organisations such as Oranga Tamariki, when children are in care) have legal responsibility, and responsibility for consenting to any treatments the child may receive.
Depression can be effectively treated, and people will usually recover from it. The earlier effective treatment is started, the better the chance of recovery.
If you think a child or young person in your life is depressed, look for the signs and talk to them. Your support is important.
As a parent or caregiver, you can advocate for the child or young person; help them navigate services; be with them at appointments, if they are comfortable with this; and encourage them to persevere with treatment or make changes where needed.
Treatment of depression can involve a number of aspects, each of which can be tailored to a child’s individual need. A combination of medication and therapy may be helpful, particularly for those experiencing severe symptoms.
Antidepressant medication, in particular fluoxetine, has also been shown to be effective in treating depressive symptoms. Doctors are usually very careful when prescribing for young people. Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error – there is no way to predict which medication will be effective and tolerated (have fewer troublesome side effects) by any one person.
If your child is prescribed medication, they and you are entitled to know:
- the names of the medicines
- what symptoms they are supposed to treat
- how long it will be before they take effect
- how long you will have to take them for and what their side effects (short and long-term) are
- what the process of stopping taking them could look like.
If medication is prescribed, it is important the child/young person is closely monitored by a health professional, particularly at the beginning of treatment. It is also really important to take the medication as prescribed and to tell the doctor or health professional if your child stops taking the medication – a sudden stop can make the person taking it feel worse.
If your child is considering stopping medication, talk to your doctor and work together with them to find some compromise that will ensure continuing wellness but address the child or young person’s concerns about the treatment.
Other strategies to support recovery
The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine and that may be used to complement and support it.
Certain complementary therapies may enhance your life and help you to maintain wellbeing. In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress.
When considering giving your child any supplement, herbal or medicinal preparation, you should consult your doctor to make sure it's safe and will not harm their health, for example, by interacting with any other medications.
Take care of your child’s general health by making sure they eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. This is really important to help them through depression.
Identifying your own needs
As a parent or caregiver, it is important to care for your own mental health and seek support where you need it. Seeing a loved one experience depression can be hugely distressing. Looking after your own health, finding peer support and, in some cases, seeking therapy for yourself will help you manage this challenge better, for both your own wellbeing and that of the child or young person.
Thanks to Natasha de Faria, clinical psychologist, for reviewing this content. Date last reviewed: September, 2022
Thanks also to Sutherland Self-Help Trust for making the 2022 updates possible.