|Only in the past
two decades has depression in children been taken very seriously.
The depressed child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to
school, cling to a parent, or worry that the parent may die.
Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative,
grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Because normal behaviors vary
from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to
tell whether a child is just going through a temporary "phase"
or is suffering from depression.
Sometimes the parents become worried about how the child's behavior
has changed, or a teacher mentions that "your child doesn't
seem to be himself." In such a case, if a visit to the
child's pediatrician rules out physical symptoms, the doctor
will probably suggest that the child be evaluated, preferably
by a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of children.
If treatment is needed, the doctor may suggest that another
therapist, usually a social worker or a psychologist, provide
therapy while the psychiatrist will oversee medication if it
is needed. Parents should not be afraid to ask questions: What
are the therapist's qualifications? What kind of therapy will
the child have? Will the family as a whole participate in therapy?
Will my child's therapy include an antidepressant? If so, what
might the side effects be?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has identified
the use of medications for depression in children as an important
area for research. The NIMH-supported Research Units on Pediatric
Psychopharmacology(RUPPs) form a network of seven research
sites where clinical studies on the effects of medications for
mental disorders can be conducted in children and adolescents.
Among the medications being studied are antidepressants, some
of which have been found to be effective in treating children
with depression, if properly monitored by the child's physician.8