This Thursday, October 10, is National Depression Screening Day. The number of adults suffering from depression in our country is staggering. Fortunately what was considered to be a taboo topic of discussion years ago has now been declared a national concern.
And now that this crippling disease has finally been outted, how to effectively educate folks on the symptoms and treatment for depression has taken center stage. Diagnosing adult depression is relatively easy to pinpoint. Feelings of prolonged sadness, debilitating lethargy, disinterest in social activities, work absences, changes in eating habits, and dramatic increase or decrease in weight are among the most significant earmarks that one is depressed. Seeking medical attention early on can certainly ease if not totally eradicated most or all of these symptoms. With proper treatment, the depressed person can return to a feeling of good health and be productive and happy.
However, young children can suffer from depression, too. But depression in children is sometimes extremely difficult to diagnose, and can go unnoticed for many years. First, we must all be aware that children as young as two can be clinically depressed. Usually these tots are being raised in a very dysfunctional home, and have been subjected to physical and emotional mistreatment. If not recognized, their suffering can last a lifetime.
Not all depressed youngsters however come from dysfunctional homes where they experienced daily abuse. Sometimes it takes just one traumatic event that can cause a child to spiral into the depths of deep depression. And, unfortunately, because they are so young and the adults around them simply believe that they don't understand what has happened, these children begin to act out inappropriately and are many times labeled difficult and unruly.
I was that child. I believe I became extremely depressed after my dad was killed in a work-related accident in 1948. I was three years old. Although I clearly remember his viewing, his funeral, and his interment, I don't remember anyone ever asking me how I felt or even attempted to talk to me about my dad's passing. My childhood pictures from the time of his death showed me as a serious-faced tot whose eyes never danced with the light of true happiness. I never talked much and went from a skinny kid to an overweight 6 year old. I feared authority because of the power they had; after all, look what happened to my dad and he was my strong, invincible hero. If "they" could end his life, doing me in would be a piece of cake.
I carried my suffering around for many, many years. At the age of 39 I was afflicted with a neurological condition that few specialists had ever seen in their practices. For two years I bounced from doctor to doctor without being properly diagnosed. Finally, in 1983, I found a physician who, although he wasn't able to identify my ailment, sent me to a prominent psychologist. During my sessions with him, we not only pinpointed what I had, but determined I was depressed and probably had been since the age of three. With continued counseling and further treatment, the dark fog of this insidious disease gradually lifted. I could look in the mirror and finally see the light shining from my eyes the way it did when my dad and I were together.
To say that I was cured and never would deal with depression again would be false. But, now I know the symptoms, know where to go and what to do to curtail its duration, and can return to normal in a very short amount of time. I believe that what happened to me at the age of three is the foundation of my entire life and is what has led me to my passion for the health and welfare of young children.
Children can and do suffer from depression. Please keep your eyes, minds, and hearts open, talk to your children about serious issues that arise even though they may be very young, let them express their feelings freely, and, above all, take them for proper treatment early if you only suspect that their sadness and change in behavior just might be signs of depression. Better safe than sorry, I always say!