Depression is a mental health condition that can affect people of all ages. It is a serious mood disorder that diminishes one’s quality of life as it influences how an individual feels, thinks, and acts. According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 7% of adults in the United States have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. The statistics in children are also significant, with approximately 1% of preschoolers, 2% of school-age children, and 5-8% of adolescents affected by this mood disorder.

While it is perfectly reasonable to feel sad or blue on occasion, suffering from depression is a longer-lasting and more debilitating experience. Depression involves feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and diminished self-worth that are so persistent that they interfere with daily life. Although for some people, depression is a once in a lifetime occurrence, many individuals will have recurring episodes of this disorder.

Individuals who are suffering from depression may exhibit a spectrum of symptoms, including some of the following behaviors:

  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Frequent sadness, excessive crying
  • Pessimism, hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Extreme sensitivity, low self-esteem
  • Lack of energy
  • Social isolation
  • Complaints of physical aches and pains that cannot be attributed to other medical conditions
  • Poor concentration
  • Problems at work or school
  • Change in sleeping and/or eating patterns
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide

It’s not possible to attribute depression to a single cause. According to current research, several risk factors can trigger depression, including a family history of the disorder, early trauma, significant life changes, sleep disturbances, medical illness, chronic pain, changes in brain chemistry, drug and alcohol abuse as well as other mental health disorders.

Special considerations in children and adolescents

When mental health disorders such as depression affect children and adolescents, it can be particularly hard for parents to distinguish passing behaviors that may be within a normal range for a particular age group, from certain moods or conduct that might be indicative of an underlying psychiatric disorder. Further evaluation is in order when signs and symptoms interfere with the child or adolescent’s ability to function or interact with others.

For children, the expressed symptoms of depression can vary with age. In young children, behaviors such as aggression, anger, and excessive crying may be most evident. It is also important to note that depression in children and teenagers may manifest itself differently from the disorder in adults, with behavior like irritability being more prominent.

Children, who have a family history of depression, have experienced psychosocial adversity, as well as those who have other anxiety, attention, learning, conduct, or eating disorders are at a higher risk for developing depression. Furthermore, an occurrence of depression in adolescence may predispose an individual to subsequent episodes of depression in adult life as well as to other psychosocial difficulties. Nevertheless, depression is a treatable illness. With early diagnosis and the appropriate professional care, the symptoms can be managed, recovery is more likely, and there is an increased chance that any subsequent episodes will be less severe.

Management and treatment of depression

It’s essential to keep in mind that depression is a treatable illness. Available treatments include psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral, and medication. Depending upon an individual’s diagnosis and needs, treatment may take the form of one or two types of therapy or an integrated approach that includes a combination of therapy and medication as well as other modes of care.

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