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A true story about depression – this could be you:
September is Suicide Awareness week and October is Depression Awareness Month so I want to address an issue that is often brushed aside and minimized. It is depression. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders and according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 1 in 11 children will experience clinical depression before the age of 14. Furthermore, the risk for depression increases as a child gets older and is the leading cause of disability among Americans ages 15-44 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Depression affects a person’s entire physical and mental well-being.
Did you know that students with learning disabilities (LD) have statistically higher accounts of depressions than their peers without LD? Having a disability makes attending school challenging. Students with disabilities know that their lives are not under their control, they are painfully aware that they don’t fit in, have academic failures, and experience a number of social rejections. Unfortunately, depression is not addressed in schools (another forbidden “D” word). Many if not all kids with learning disabilities experience Learned Helplessness and this does NOT mean the child is coddled by their parents! Read this article to educate yourself on Learned Helplessness!
One of the reasons depression is not discussed, is shame. Parents already experience a number of emotions regarding having a child with a disability. To make matters worse, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and administrators often blame parents for the child’s academic struggles and behaviors. I am frequently in meetings where school staff members give parenting advice and have blatantly stated that the child wouldn’t have these difficulties if the parents would only…“read with the child, help with homework, stop doing the child’s homework, discipline consistently, stop cuddling the child, reduce their social/sports schedule, increase their social/sports schedule”, and the list is endless. When parents already feel responsible for their child’s struggles these comments only make the situation worse, not better. This “blame the parents” approach makes it more difficult for the parents to bring up concerns about depression and the school staff perceiving the symptoms of depression as a parenting problem.
The second reason depression is not discussed is because people don’t know the symptoms of depression in children and adolescents, especially ones with a disability. The symptoms of depression are often common signs for other problems and the severity of these symptoms is not taken seriously.
The following are some symptoms of depression (these will be unique for each person):
- Irritability, anger, angry outbursts
- Continuous feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness – feeling melancholy or sad most of the day
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Over clinging to parents
- Feelings of anxiety, phobias
- Increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism
- Changes in appetite - either increased (weight gain) or decreased (weight loss)
- Changes in sleep (sleeplessness, too much sleep)
- Crying, temper tantrums, or sulking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Fatigue (tiredness) low or decreased energy
- Physical Complaints or chronic pain (stomach aches, headaches) that do not respond to treatment (possible real physical problem or feigning illness)
- Digestive Disorders
- Reduced ability to function during activities at home or with friend, in school, extracurricular activities, and in hobbies or interests
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Getting into trouble, increased behavior problems
- Inability to experience pleasure or excitement even when doing activities that were pleasurable
- Mania or putting on a good front by being over happy
- Experimentation with drugs or alcohol
- Thoughts or talk of death or suicide
To get a direct perspective of what depression it is like for a popular non-learning disabled student watch this video of Kevin Breel (Confessions of a Depressed Comic): Watch one of the two - sometimes phones do not allow a video to play so you have two options to choose from but they are the same video!
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What can be done:
Depression can be treated and children experiencing depression MUST be treated because if they do not get help it will only get worse. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) once a child experiences depression, the child is at risk of developing another depression within five years. Eventually, the child may contemplate or attempt suicide. Did you know that according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 5-15 year-olds?
If we continue to minimize depression we risk losing children to suicide. Is this a risk we want to take? NO!
So, make sure you, as a parent know what to look for regarding depression. Ask the school staff members to also be educated on depression and look for signs and symptoms in all children. The earlier this is caught the easier it is to treat.
(Image: a figure sitting with their hands clasped and their head down and the words "Did you know? 1 in 11 children will experience clinical depression before the age of 14 & suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 5-15 year-olds? It's time to talk about depression")