Friday, February 23, 2024

Do parents know when their children are depressed?

Parents tend to think that they might be able to spot the signs of depression in their adult children.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. While many parents bring their child in for help shortly after depression begins, the opposite is far more common than we think.

Telling the difference between a child’s normal ups and downs and something bigger is among the top challenges’ parents face in identifying youth depression.

Some parents struggle to differentiate between normal mood swings and signs of depression, while some say their child is good at hiding feelings. In many families, the preteen and teen years bring dramatic changes both in youth behavior and in the dynamic between parents and children. These transitions can make it very challenging to get a read on child’s emotional state and whether there is possible depression.

Parents dismiss depression in their children by thinking they are going through a phase, and it won’t last. They think “my child looks fine to me, everything seems fine, so we move on”. Parents are also guilty of not listening, most parents are busy, and don’t pick up the cue to put down what we they are doing and tune in. Even though they spend more time with their children than ever before, they are also more often distracted.

Children whether young or old try to protect their parents. They can see when their parents are struggling and avoid telling them how they are doing. They don’t want to overload their parents. This is often evident in elder children, who will protect their parents even as they take on the caretaking role for others in the family. It is also seen in younger children who have taken on the family role as “laid back,” or the happy one.

But having depression is more than just being sad. Depression affects the way we think, and how we see ourselves and our future. Along with feeling sad or irritable, it may seem that nothing is worthwhile and that things will never get better. Depression is hard to diagnose because it is not always obvious. Parents may not believe in an illness they don’t see. Parents need to be educated that some illnesses exist and cause suffering even if they can’t always see it. Parents should also know that physicians are not blaming them for their child’s illness, but they are responsible for getting their child appropriate treatment. Signs and symptoms of depression might be harder to notice if your child isn’t living at home. University students also might have difficulty seeking help for depression out of embarrassment or fear of not fitting in. Many college students don’t get treatment for depression.

Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana, Dr Poloko Ntshwarang says: “Sometimes depression is triggered by 1 difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children. Often, it’s caused by a mixture of things.

Loneliness and social isolation are some of the biggest challenges a depressed young adult may face. More severe challenges include self-harm, suicidal feelings and failing to take medication and/or go to therapy. 

Parents need to tease out what’s depression and what’s typical stress. One of the hallmarks of depression is the way it cuts us off from meaningful connections. It’s important to take notice when parents feel that their connection with a child fades in a way that continues for more than a week or two.”


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