Depression in children is unfortunately very common, and youngsters who suffer with depression are also likely to suffer with other mental health conditions, such as ADHD and behavioural problems.
Dr Adrian Harrison from kidsFIRST Medical Center explodes a few myths surrounding depression in children, whilst giving a few pointers on how to deal with this problem and its possible prevention.
Myth 1: Children cannot be depressed.
There are a number of myths surrounding mental health in children, with parents sometimes having picked up wrong ideas about child development from their own parents, friends, or the media. It is not uncommon for parents to believe that children cannot be depressed, have nothing to worry about, and don’t get stressed. This is totally incorrect. Children can have episodes of depression, experience excessive worrying, and experience post-traumatic stress related difficulties.
Myth 2: They will grow out of it.
There can be numerous reasons for mental health problems. However, not surprisingly in this modern age, I have noticed an increase in referrals related to excessive computer game use. Whatever the reason, though, it can be very difficult for parents to acknowledge that their child may have an emotional, intellectual, or psychological challenge. Often parents hope that the child will ‘grow out of it’ or that their current unwanted behaviour is simply ‘a phase they are going through’.
Myth 3: Mental illness is a sign of a weak personality.
It is important to realise that mental illness is not a sign of a weak personality. Many mental health difficulties are the result of neurobiological differences and/or adverse childhood events that have caused a significant psychological impact on the child.
People with all different personality styles experience mental health difficulties. Children’s mental health and wellbeing are influenced by their social circumstances; hence, it is important to provide a nurturing environment alongside individual treatment of the child. And as we move forwards, it is vital that there is an increased awareness of mental health difficulties locally, as well as more opportunities and activities to help children who are experiencing these difficulties.
What parents can do
Firstly, parents need to be aware that there are professionals available to help them and their child. Secondly, parents need to understand the nature and severity of the childhood difficulty. Thirdly, parents need to feel that they can trust the professional assigned to help their child.
Research informs us that there are protective factors that lower the likelihood of developing a mental illness. Some of these include physical activity; engagement and connection in at least two of the following areas – school, peers, employment, religion, culture; and supportive relationships with family members, resulting in physical and psychological safety.
Indeed, children cannot manage a mental health disorder by willpower alone. They need a supportive community environment at home and at school, appropriate interventions, and in some cases the use of medication.
Finally, to conclude with a piece of very welcome news, there is no doubt that school staff within the UAE are now much better at identifying and informing families of a potential mental health concern with their child.
Dr Adrian Harrison is an Educational and Child Psychologist licensed with the Abu Dhabi Department of Health and is the Head of Department at Kids FIRST Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi.
kidsFIRST Medical Center
Villa 135, Street 12
Khalifa City A
Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi