BY DR. DON MORDECAI
WITH VACATION days
gone and academic demands increasing, we
often see an increase in
the number of children
suffering from depression, a common, treat-able health condition.
While every teen feels upset or irritable now and then, depression is a more
intense feeling of sadness, hopelessness or
anger that lasts for weeks or longer and
impairs the teen’s ability to function. Left
untreated, depression can lead to academic problems, alcohol and drug abuse,
and even suicide.
According to the most recent mental
health report conducted by Statistics
Canada ( statcan.gc.ca), 11 per cent of 15-
to 24-year-olds reported being depressed
in their lifetime, and 7 per cent had experienced depression in the past year. Fewer
than half sought professional help,
although many turned to family or friends.
Depression can be triggered by stressful events such as changing schools, losing
someone close, going through a family
divorce or questioning sexual orientation
or gender identity. Adverse childhood
experiences such as abuse, neglect and
poverty are associated with an increased
risk for mental health conditions and self-harm attempts. Also, a family history of
depression may increase a teen’s risk for
Reading between the lines
While social media is leading more
people to express their thoughts, feelings
and experiences publicly, many teens
won’t tell anyone they are feeling bad.
Instead, their behaviour might change
in the following ways:
• Restlessness and agitation.
• Acting out.
• Lack of enthusiasm or motivation.
• Forgetfulness and/or lack of concentration.
• Withdrawal from social activities.
• Dropping grades.
• Frequent school absences.
• Changes in eating patterns.
• Changes in sleeping patterns.
• Frequent headaches and body aches.
• Substance abuse.
How to help
Studies indicate that even one safe,
stable and nurturing relationship can be a
major protective factor in the face of traumatic events.
The first step is to start a conversation.
If you suspect that a young person you are
close to is depressed, share your concerns
and ask about his or her feelings and challenges at home, at school or with friends.
How you approach the topic is critical.
Here are a few tips:
• Listen without being judgmental or
• Avoid lecturing, diagnosing their
condition or making accusations.
• Empathize and show them you are
there to help. If they think that what they
say will anger or distress you, they may not
open up to you.
Before reaching out to a child’s parent,
consider whether the teen’s depression
may be related to a situation at home. If
you suspect abuse, share your concerns
with a school psychologist or counsellor, or
contact the agency that investigates child
abuse cases in your area.
Treatment for depression can include
talk therapy (including individual, group
or family counselling), medication or a
combination of both.
With the right treatment, 80 per cent
of people who suffer from depression can
feel better—sometimes within weeks. C
Dr. Don Mordecai is a child and adolescent
psychiatrist with The Permanente Medical
Group, and the Kaiser Permanente national
leader for mental health and wellness.
FOR YOUR HEALTH
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