If parents or other adults in a child's life suspect a problem with depression, there are a couple of tasks they can do to help the child. First, be aware of the behaviors and note how long the behaviors have been going on, how often they occur, and how severe they seem. This will allow a professional to better diagnose what is happening in the child's life and set up possible treatment options. Second, see a mental health professional or the child's doctor for evaluation and diagnosis. The child can not fully recover without the help of professionals. Some individuals have only one episode of depression, but often depression becomes a recurrent condition. A doctor can educate the child and family about the early warning symptoms of depression so that the family can recognize when depression is reoccurring and get immediate help. The doctor can also teach the child and family about therapies to help reduce the chances of reoccurrence.
It is very important for parents to understand their child's depression and the treatments that may be prescribed. Physicians can help by talking with parents about their questions or concerns, reinforcing that depression in youth is not uncommon, and reassuring them that appropriate treatment with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination can lead to improved functioning at school, with peers, and at home with family.
The following are some suggestions about how caregivers can help a depressed child function in normal life and aid in their recovery.
- Seek advice and consultation as soon as possible from a qualified mental health professional if the symptoms of depression are severe, prolonged, debilitating, unexplained, or unusual.
- Learn more about any medications the child is taking. Ask the child's physician and pharmacist about potential interactions and side effects.
- A normal depression is usually temporary, can come and go, but should diminish over time. Allow the child space and time.
- Maintain a regular and nutritional diet. Avoid meal skipping. A proper diet is a critical source of energy and the child's ability to cope and recover.
- Maintain a regular sleep cycle. Avoid the child sleeping or napping during the day if it is difficult to sleep during regular times. Irregular sleep patterns prolong or worsen symptoms of depression.
- Maintain regular or routine physical activity that is appropriate for any existing medical condition. Activity can help relieve or manage depression.
- Spend time with the child, be caring, listen well, and be understanding.
- Stay involved and avoid extended isolation from positive activities and influences.
- Take time on a regular basis to help the child enjoy pleasurable activities and recreational interests.
With proper treatment children with depression can have functional happy lives. If depression goes untreated, it can dramatically impact a child's entire life and even lead to suicide. Family support is critical in helping a child deal with depression and to improve self-image.
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