An increasing number of children are suffering from depression, but they are often too young to articulate how they feel. Research shows that the number of kids who have gone to the ER for suicidal behaviour has doubled in less than a decade in the United States. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 in Canada. In Hong Kong, children and teens under 18 who were diagnosed with depression jumped by 118% in five years (2014/ 2015 compared with 2018/2019).
Why is depression on the rise for kids? Genetics, stress, family conflict and bullying may all play a role, but experts are also making connections between this rise with the increase in children’s use of screens and social media.
RECOGNISE THE SIGNS
- Physical symptoms. Though depression is a mental illness, it’s not unusual for children to experience physical symptoms, like tiredness and tummy aches. You may notice changes in their eating or sleeping habits as well. They may suddenly have no appetite to eat, or they may have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep.
- Changes in behaviour. Kids who are depressed might suddenly withdraw from their friends, start to perform poorly at school or experience a change in activity level. Some may become irritable, aggressive or poorly behaved. Many kids won’t have the words to explain the despair they feel, and since they cannot express themselves, they may act a certain way to avoid social interaction or push people away.
- Disengagement. Withdrawing from friends and activities may be a sign that something is wrong. Complaints of boredom could also be a warning sign. “Boredom isn’t a natural state for a child,” says Tyler Black, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. “In child psychiatry, it’s considered a symptom of sadness.”
- Talk of death. If a child talks about death all the time, it can be a sign that they have suicidal thoughts. Saying things like, “You’d be better off without me”, “I want to die” or “I hate my life” or drawing pictures with dark or violent imagery should be addressed.
- High-risk behaviour. Self-harm like punching oneself or banging one’s head against the floor or wall, or hurting others, may be indicative of suicidal ideation.
WHAT TO DO
- If your child is showing signs of depression or suicidal behaviour, it’s important to talk to them about it and seek professional help for them. If your child is in immediate danger of hurting themselves, call 999 (in Hong Kong) for emergency help.
- Early intervention is key. Don’t brush off any persistent warning signs.
- Develop and maintain a good, positive relationship with your child. Be present for your child. Ask them about their day, about their friends, about their passions or hobbies. Try to have dinner as a family together. Take them out on a mother-child or father-child date. Do an activity or sport together. Don’t underestimate how much your love, support and time you give means to your child.
Is your child stressed or anxious? Click here to read more about stress and anxiety in today’s children. Dr. Ardyce Yik ND helps countless children and teenagers reach optimal health using natural medicine and nutrition. She works closely with psychologists when necessary for the betterment of her patients and is in charge of the “Boost Your Child’s Health”program at OT&P clinic in Repulse Bay.