I was about six, maybe seven-years-old. I was abnormally quiet, withdrawn, and cried a lot. The feelings inside were unexpressable and likely not understood; how could a mere child experience depression? No I was not poor, surrounded by domestic violence, neglected, or a victim of community violence. Nor were my parents divorced, I hadn't experienced grief, and I had nothing else observable to the naked eye that could possibly explain why I was depressed. A matter of fact, I had the "ideal" life according to the naked eye. I grew up in a two-parent, Christian, middle class household. I had a great relationship with my older brother with the only "negative characteristic" being the typical sibling rivalry (i.e. me stealing his candy, reading his books in his room, and playing with his toys before he returned from school). Yes, I was the youngest and gladly the source of our sibling love! I of course received my fair share of spankings but nothing that resulted in broken bones, bruised lips, or a black eye. My father worked by day; mom by night. We had two cars, a beautiful home in a suburban neighborhood, and my parents could actually decide if they wanted to send us to public school, private school, home school, or boarding school (note: I did all four). Now I'm not saying that we were rich (although I felt like we were back then), I am just saying that I personally did not have many of the risk factors that we automatically think of when it comes to a child, or anyone, being depressed.
But I did have a secret...and that secret may be the one thing that has catapulted me to the success I have today. Many of us become stuck in overcoming tragedy. My tragedy may have been the best thing that could happen because it pushed me to work harder and I believe it changed my life for the better.
Let us talk about childhood depression and my experience with it.
So that we are all on the same page, when I say childhood depression, I am referring to children under the age of 12. In psychology, we tend to say school aged children and make it specific to ages 6-12 years of age.
Depression comes as a result of many factors in life. Chemical imbalances, trauma, genetics, environmental factors, etc. It is rare you can pinpoint a singular cause of depression. Regardless of the reason(s), depression can be difficult to live with. And struggling with it at an early age can often set a foundation for continued struggles lifelong. But depression can be overcome.
If you have a child experiencing depression, I would encourage you to do the following things:
1. Support and encourage him/her; depression is not a weakness. It is a response to something that many of us do not have control over.
2. Talk to your child. If you can relate to your child, share your experience with it. Let them express their thoughts and feelings and do not tell them how they should or should not feel.
3. Engage in therapy. Allow your child to have an individual therapist (whom you are comfortable with) and also engage in family sessions. While a child needs their space to express themselves, the family system will be the most important in assisting a child with depression.
4. Make sure you as the caregiver has support. In my work, I have talked with countless numbers of caregivers who blame themselves for their child's struggle. Remember that depression can be overcome. Make sure you are addressing your own mental health needs and connect with support groups, friends, and family who can also support you as you create a healthier environment and lifestyle for your self and your child.