Have you ever felt depressed? Have you ever wakened up not wanting to go to work or face your day? Have you ever felt like you needed a break from your kids – a long break?! But on top of that, you felt down and out and didn’t really know why.
Depression is a normal state of mind for just about everyone across the entire globe at some point in time in one’s life. Let’s remember that depression, even in the colloquial sense, is more than just feeling sad. It lingers a while. A sadness from say a death in the family or a close friend is very normal unless it doesn’t stop after a reasonable period of time. There is also a marked difference between normal depression and clinical depression. To reach a clinical depression, several criteria have to be met, including that depressed state being around for months and has to be interfering with work, sleep, study, eating, and more. Kids and teens have been dealing with depression probably since the beginning of time, but in recent years, and starting as young as age 6, depression and other mental health issues have continued well into the teens (and beyond, for some). Let’s face it – today’s world is full of peer pressure, broken homes, single parent homes, contentious relationships between mothers and fathers, and parental drug use. This is a partial list. Kids and teens – as well as parents and other adults – have a lot to deal with!
What is It?
Erika’s Lighthouse Parent Handbook on Childhood and Teen Depression states that “depression is a medical term that defines a specific disorder of the brain. It’s more than just a sad or depressed mood, which all of us feel from time to time. Depression … is a sustained depressed mood, feeling of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in most activities, sense of worthlessness and/or guilt, and difficulty with concentration, thinking and making decisions.”
Many people, especially teens, are often irritable when they feel depressed. This can be expressed as anger, masking the underlying depressed state. While this may be normal and may not always be depression, it should alert you, the parent, to the possibility that you child may be feeling depressed or hopeless or helpless about something.
What it Looks Like
Depression in kids and teens can be a little more challenging to detect. As stated above, teens can show irritability and anger when their real issue is depression. Kids and teens may initially begin to show a drop in their academic progress (i.e., lower grades). Kids and teens may stop enjoying people and activities they usually enjoy and withdraw. They can feel hopeless, worthless, and guilty over things that don’t even relate to them. (If you and your spouse/significant other broke up, your child is likely to feel guilty about that.) Depressive symptoms can show themselves in either too much or too little sleep – but changing sleep patterns is often one of the telltale signs, along with others. They may lose their ability to keep their focus for long and may start thinking about death and/or suicide. They may begin to give away their possessions. Always err on the side of caution – get this checked out by competent mental health care professionals even though your child may say they were kidding or it’s nothing. Another sign may be a lack of their usual robust energy. If they stop showing emotion, you have a right to be suspicious that this could be a sign of a depressed state.
Medication and How that Affects the Disorder
Since we are living in a time where the medical model of mental health treatment is reigning supreme, children and teens who present to treating professionals are usually put on medications and talk therapy is recommended. There are a multitude of antidepressants that are given to children and teens. Here are some:
Be extremely careful if you choose to give your child/teen these drugs as they can all have negative interactions with other drugs, illicit or prescription…buyer beware!
How Holistic Interventions Assist in Treating Depression
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) said, “the doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” As we know better than any other time in our history, there is a very succinct, direct connection between the physical body, the mind, the feelings, and one’s spirit or soul. In 2014, a large meta-analysis (a study of all studies done on a particular subject) was conducted by multiple researchers and results were reported in the American Journal of Public Health. These authors found “a significant, cross-sectional relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.” There was also a positive relationship “between good-quality diet and better mental health.” So, one’s diet can literally make or break your child’s mental health.
It stands to reason then that eating healthy foods consistently would help create good mental health. That has been proven to be true. Last year NPR wrote about a study which demonstrated how changes in diet – eating lots of vegetables and fruits and limiting processed foods – can reduce depressive symptoms. Diets high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugary foods and drinks seems to cause inflammation and is a definite risk factor for depression. So, we know that changing a kid’s or teen’s diet can be very challenging, but well worth the effort. Some supplements that may be helpful (and check for contraindications if your child is on any medication) are St. John’s wort, an herb, SAMe, a compound made naturally by the body, 5-HTP, a chemical the body makes from the amino acid tryptophan, often found in turkey, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, cod liver oil), the B vitamins, vitamin D, and others. A combination of healthy diet and supplements should bring about a greater change. There have been studies demonstrating this effect. Amino acid therapy is also showing great promise as a substitute for antidepressant drugs. Many treatment facilities are beginning to offer such services, and more. Mindfulness activities are also helpful in centering a person and there are many approaches, such as doing yoga, meditation, EFT, and others.
You – the parent or caretaker – can participate in your child’s or your teen’s recovery by starting slowly with dietary changes and participating in some of these activities with your child/teen. Also, find out whether your child or teen has food sensitivities, which foods your kids may be sensitive to – there are numerous, lower-cost ways to test for these. Also, take foods containing refined wheat (and other grains) way down or out of your diet, and try to reduce/eliminate all sugar. There are very palatable and healthy sugar substitutes (not aspartame, etc., but rather stevia, monk fruit, etc.) There are many recipes free of charge that help you make nearly every dish you and your child love using healthier ingredients, including pizza! Yes, there’s even a healthy version of pepperoni. Almond flour makes a fine substitute for wheat, by the way. Try to stop eating foods which are more than “minimally processed” – highly processed foods like vegetable oil do not create healthy kids. Watch out for chemical food additives and genetically modified ingredients. For optimal results, please work with a competent health care provider!
FREE Handouts and additional resources:
Suggestions for Teens with Depression and Anxiety
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