The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has numerous discussions that pertain to mental health, including that of children.

As a part of every child’s life, there are occasional feelings of sadness or hopelessness. For some children, they may feel sad or uninterested in things that they used to enjoy or feel hopeless in situations they are able to change. When these feeling of sadness and hopelessness are persistent, they may be diagnosed as depressed.

The exact causes of what makes a person depressed has been extensively studied, and while we now know much more about neurotransmitters, are able to measure chemicals in body fluids and are able to look at the anatomy of the brain with MRIs, we still don’t know the biological basis for depression.

These studies are enormously complex involving the interaction of genetics, environmental factors, socio-economic adversity, pervasive stress and the breakdown of social support networks.

For parents who are concerned that their child might be depressed, they might notice the following behaviors:

1. Feeling sad, hopeless or irritable much of the time.

2. Not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things.

3. Showing changes in eating patterns — eating much more or much less.

4. Showing changes in sleep patterns — sleeping much more or much less.

5. Showing changes in energy — being tired and sluggish or tense and restless most of the time.

6. Having a hard time paying attention.

7. Feeling worthless, useless or guilty.

8. Showing self-injury and self-destructive behavior.

Some children may not talk about their helpless and hopeless thoughts and may not appear sad. Depression also might cause a child to make trouble or act unmotivated. This causes others to label the child as a troublemaker or lazy instead of depressed.

Extreme depression can lead a child to think about suicide or plan for suicide. For ages 10-24 years, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Nearly one of every eight children between the ages of 6-12 has suicidal thoughts.

Parent who think their children are depressed should talk to them to see if they can find out about things happening at home or at school. It’s important to talk to your child’s doctor, who can help screen your child for depression and may offer counseling and medicine.

The doctor should address thoughts of suicide and treat it as an emergency. Guns, knives, ropes/cables and all medicines (prescription or not) should be locked up.

Once a treatment plan is developed, caregivers need to make sure that the child attends therapy sessions, takes his medicine, eats a healthy diet, gets at least an hour of exercise and has a healthy sleep pattern. Caregivers can talk to children about how to break down problems or tasks into smaller steps, so they can be successful.

Most of all, parents should talk to their children and listen with love and support. If you, as the reader of this, feel depressed, please seek help.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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