The blissful time period – childhood is a carefree, happy and blissful time; as if crafted only to be enjoyed.

But it’s not uncommon for little ones to feel the pressures and strains of today’s life. They too can feel sadness and dejection inside their innocent hearts and innocuous minds. Children truly know how to feel pain. They sense loneliness and neglect; more than adults are capable of imagining. Kids ‘know’ sadness when it strikes them.

Why will kids ever be sad?

Children have pretty much for the same reasons to feel sad as adults do. They’re human too (we sometimes forget that). They’re not toys or machines that adults ritualistically like to control. To think of it:

  • Do adults feel gloomy when they lose someone they love?
  • Do they feel hurt when their boss puts them down at work?
  • Do adults feel dismayed when their job interview goes really bad?
  • Do they feel upset when a best friend ceases to trust them?
  • Will they be distraught after an argument with a beloved spouse?

These situations aren’t any different from the ones children face.

  • Does a child seem gloomy when she loses her favorite doll?
  • Can she seem dismayed if she is rejected at elocution?
  • Will he feel hurt when he’s scolded in front of everyone?
  • Can he look upset when his best friend finds another best friend?
  • Will she be distraught when she has a fight with her play pal that day?

That’s how and why kids get sad. They’re as human as adults.

 The brain in depression

Depression is a clinical disorder and not just behavioral. The chemicals and neurotransmitters in a child’s brain are taking shape and formulating baseline levels in childhood. These determine their reactivity to situations in the future. Depression in childhood predisposes the little ones to react pessimistically and negatively to events as they grow up. Childhood depression prepares the child for depression and negative outlook in the future.

Depression is a clinical disorder and not just behavioralClick To Tweet

Depression: physical checklist

  • Change in the sleep pattern (more, or less)
  • Refusal to eat food (even favorite foods)
  • Unexplained tiredness and exhaustion
  • Seeming lethargic and lazy all the time

Depression: behavior checklist

  • Refusing to meet friends and family
  • Not seeming to enjoy even at parties
  • Episodes of frequent crying
  • Detached and withdrawn from others

Depression: school checklist

  • Declining performance in school
  • Dropping grades in exams
  • Not paying attention in the classroom
  • School refusal without explanation

Reassurance

Children easily internalize the idea that it’s not really OK to feel depressed. They start to hide their feelings rather than deal with them in a healthy way. It is important to reassure children that the way they feel, and especially sadness, is not something to be ashamed of. They have a right over any and every feeling, and their emotions need to be respected.

They must learn that it is okay to ask for help when they need it. They can speak to parents, a teacher, a relative or a counselor. They learn coping skills by observing people around them so parents need to be positive. Excessive and extreme sadness, irritability, loss of pleasure, change of appetite or sleep, tiredness, feeling worthless or the mention of not wanting to exist; are all signs of severe depression and must be treated professionally.

Slow and steady

Treatment for depression is promising but it takes time and commitment from the child, parents, family members and the therapist. If not treated appropriately, it can have drastic social, emotional, academic, and physical consequences. Medication, parental guidance, counseling and behavior modification strategies are promising solutions to manage childhood depression and bring back a ray of hope into their dark lives. After all, children truly deserve the brightness.

Dr Shefali Batra is a Psychiatrist, and Co-Founder at InnerHour, a psychological wellbeing platform that offers wellness information, answers questions and offers support and guidance counselling through a skilled team of counsellors and psychotherapists. She designs and implements a range of guidance modules for children, parents as well as schools. She is contactable at shefali@theinnerhour.com.