Author: Kirsten Beiri, Downtown Kids Director
I grew up as a missionary kid in Japan. When I was 12 years old, my parents felt called to move back to the United States and serve as homeland missionaries. After moving back to the United States, I experienced much loss, loss of connection with friends, culture, familiarity, and a sense of belonging. Looking back, during my 6th-grade year, I was angry, resentful, shed many tears, felt alone, and isolated myself. I would sit in my room for hours feeling at a loss of trying to understand all my emotions and why I couldn’t get myself together and to feel like myself again. I didn’t want to talk to anybody about what I was experiencing, and our family kept silent in sharing feelings and thoughts with each other. I was screaming from the inside, “please someone help me, I know something isn’t right.” I was experiencing depression as a child, and I felt alone.
My parents knew I was not acting like myself, but depression wasn’t a thought that had crossed their minds. My parents had a misconception or were misinformed about children and depression. My feelings and emotions felt minimized and dismissed. My parents felt at a loss in knowing I was struggling but not understanding how to respond or what steps to help me.
So, what are common depression symptoms that we can look for? Change in usual affect/mood, struggling with falling asleep or staying asleep, withdrawal from others, changes in eating habits, loss of enjoyment in usual activities, and self-injurious behaviors or threats.
It is important to model healthy communication skills and coping skills of emotions. It’s also important to check in with your child and not be afraid to ask your child direct questions. If your child struggles to verbalize a response, state your observations and be in tune with how your child responds and engages.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults suffers from some mental illness. Mental health concerns, in some ways, are like physical sickness. Depression is like other illnesses, like the flu or an ear infection. 70% of teens say depression is a significant problem among their peers.
Boys and girls may also experience different symptoms and signs of depression. “Depressed girls felt sadness, guilt, punishment, worthlessness, low energy, and fatigue, or more asthenia, whereas depressed boys have symptoms such as irritability, depression, suicidal thoughts, or desires to reduce their pleasure.” Since 2007, suicide rates have increased by 76% for ages 15 to 19, and have doubled among teen girls. The highest rate of increase in suicide among all age groups is in kids from the ages of 10 to 14. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5848397/)
Understanding if your child is experiencing depression and what steps you can take for them can feel overwhelming. A good place to start is conversing with your child’s pediatrician. Sharing your observations, asking questions, and eliminating medical causes can give information to help with the next steps in helping your child. Seeking a professional therapist can help your child to express and cope with emotions and the next steps in helping support your child. Free resources like SEL Sketches videos that teach the thought-feeling-behavior triangle are also available.
i. Source: https://www.nami.org/mhstats
ii. Source: https://www.aecf.org/blog/generation-z-and-mental-health#:~:text=Some%2070%25%20of%20teens%20across,to%20the%20Pew%20Research%20Center