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Get help for your child

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

It’s not only adults who suffer from depression, children can experience it too.

Parents with depressed children must not despair. While depression is a serious mental health condition, it is curable with the right treatment.

The mood disorder may cause distress and is indicated by a persistent feeling of sadness or a loss of interest in life that leads to behavioural and physical symptoms.

According to clinical psychologist Dr Marcia Zikhali from the Gauteng Department of Social Development, it is normal to feel sad sometimes.

Depression is when one feels sad most of the time, which can lead to suicidal thoughts.

“Depression can be triggered by a medical illness, stressful or traumatic events, substance use or the loss of an important person,” she says.

It affects adults and children differently. While a child will often withdraw from the adults in their life, they continue to socialise with their close friends.

A depressed teenager may experience changes in sleeping patterns and will, at times, express their feelings through anger and irritability.

“Although some children may continue to do reasonably well in structured environments, most children with significant depression will show a noticeable change in social activities, a loss of interest in school, poor academic performance or a change in appearance.

“Children may also start using drugs or alcohol, especially if they are over the age of 12,” says Dr Zikhali.

There are many signs of depression in children, some of which are:

  • Irritability, tantrums or excessive aggression or anger.
  • Self-isolation.
  • Decreased interest in favourite activities.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Changes in appetite.
  •  Difficulty concentrating.
  • Low energy levels.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Parents can help their children by talking to them about what is happening in their life.

“Establish open communication before there are any concerns. Then, if concerns arise, they will be comfortable talking to you about what’s going on.

“Young children often have difficulty putting feelings into words and may feel ashamed or embarrassed about depression. Parents should convey their concerns and ask questions in a loving, supportive way,” says Dr Zikhali. 

Parents can seek help from a mental health professional, who can determine the best treatment for the child. Contact your local clinic or hospital or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group at 0800 456 789 or send a WhatsApp to 076 882 2775. For suicide emergencies, call 0800 567 567

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