Adolescence depression has only been recognized as a real clinical problem for about twenty-two years. Before that time, children that exhibited signs that are now recognized as depression were thought to be behavioural problems that the child would grow out of. Psychiatrists believed that children were too emotionally and cognitively immature to suffer from true depression. Childhood was thought to be a carefree, happy time, void of worry and concerns and therefore it was thought that their problems were not serious enough to merit depression. Traumas such as divorce, incest and abuse were not clearly understood how they could affect children in the long range. Childhood depression differs in many aspects from adult depression and widely went unrecognized academic performance, withdrawal and rejection of friends and favourite activities. Some exhibit hyperactivity, while others complain of exhaustion and illness. Many times these symptoms are thought to be just a phase' in their children, and observed as signs of depression.
Children of all ages from infancy through adolescence can suffer from a disorder mood. The symptoms change, with the child's level of development.
Depression in infants is often expressed as a failure to thrive, grow physically and act unresponsively. It is rarely seen in babies, but it is often a disturbance between the relationship of the infant and the caregiver. Post partum depression, which affects 25-30% of mothers, can in turn affect the mood of the infant. A broken bond, separation, illness or death can contribute.
Depressed mothers talk, cuddle and show less affection. Babies are sometimes rejected because they are unwanted, premature or abnormal. Preschoolers are more aggressive, self isolating, restless, overwhelmed by sleeplessness and nightmares and are less adaptive to follow rules or make friends when depressed.
Older, school-age children may avoid school, feel misdirected guilt and express their depression by changes in mood and behaviour. One in every ten children 6-11 years-old is depressed. Family dysfunction and low self-esteem are seen to be the two major contributors of depression in this age group.
Periods of sadness are a normal reaction to disappointment, failure and distress. If the depression is due to a major factor such as divorce, death or other major life stressor the period will inevitably last longer. When the sadness or irritability lasts longer than it should and causes problems in other areas such as school, home or peer relationships, it could be an indication of depressed mood.
To be diagnosed he or she must have a depressed mood or irritability for most days for a full year and exhibit at least two days of the following symptoms; poor appetite or overeating, insomnia or excessive sleep time, low energy or fatigue, low self-esteem, inability to concentrate, and a feeling of hopelessness.
Children with a major depression are sad or irritable most of the day for at least two weeks and have lost pleasure or interest in activities formally enjoyed, extreme weight loss/gain, lethargy/hyperactivity, feelings of unnecessary guilt, low self-esteem, indecisiveness or frequent thoughts of death are all symptoms.
Another aspect of adolescence is alcoholism. Despite the problems caused to young and old by alcohol, society sends a mixed signal to its youth. The media presents beer drinking with peers as not only acceptable but almost mandatory in order to insure friendship and good times. Wine is presented as a sophisticated and romantic beverage, which is drunk in a setting of dim lights, soft music, and expensive decor. Hard liquor is portrayed as the perfect drink to top of the day and to be enjoyed with the glamorous company of the opposite sex. We joke and laugh about alcohol consumption, our own and others. Parents and teachers look forward to their "happy hour" at the end of the work day. We use euphemisms to avoid the reality of alcohol...
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