Depression in Children (cont.)

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What is childhood depression?

Clinically significant depression can be broadly understood as depression that is severe enough that it interferes with the person's ability to function in some way. It is quite common in every age group, affecting more than 16% of the populations in the United States at some point in their lifetime. Other statistics about depression include that it tends to occur at a rate of about 2% during childhood prior to the teenage years. This illness is a leading cause of health impairment (morbidity) and death (mortality). About 3,000 youths die by suicide each year in the United States, making it the third leading cause of death in the 10-24 year age group.

What are the types of depression in children?

Children may suffer from the episodes of moderate to severe depression of major depressive disorder, or more chronic, mild to moderate depression of dysthymia. Depression may also be part of other mood problems like bipolar disorder, as a consequence of psychosis, as part of a medical condition like hypothyroidism, or the result of exposure to certain medications such as cold medications.

What are causes and risk factors for depression in children?

Depression in children does not have one single definitive cause. Rather, people with this illness tend to have a number of biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors that contribute to its development. Biologically, depression is associated with a reduced level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, a decrease in the size of some areas of the brain, as well as increased activity in other areas of the brain. Girls are more likely to be given the diagnosis of depression than boys, but that is thought to be the result of, among other things, a combination of biological differences based on gender, as well as the differences in how girls are encouraged to interpret their environment and respond to it compared to boys. There is thought to be at least a partially genetic contribution to the fact that children and adolescents with a depressed parent are up to four times more likely to develop the illness themselves. Children who develop depression are also more prone to having other biological challenges, such as low birth weight, trouble sleeping, and having a mother younger than 18 years old at the time of their birth.

Psychological risk factors for depression include low self-esteem, poor body image, a tendency to be highly self-critical, and feeling helpless when dealing with negative events. Children who suffer from conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical anxiety, or who have cognitive and learning problems, as well as trouble relating to others are at higher risk of also developing depression.

Depression may be a reaction to environmental stresses, including trauma like verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, school problems, being the victim of bullying, or peer pressure. Research differs as to whether obese children are at higher risk of developing depression.

The aforementioned environmental risk factors tend to specifically predispose children to depression. Other risk factors tend to predispose people to depression as well as putting them at risk for other problems. Such nonspecific risk factors to depression include poverty, exposure to violence, being socially isolated, abuse victimization, parental conflict, divorce, and other reasons for family dissolution. Children who have low physical activity, poor academic performance, or lose a relationship are at higher risk for depression as well.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/25/2013


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