A personal take on depression: Would you recognise it in your child?

Tania writes

It's Depression Awareness Week, although with the state of the economy and the weather, it wouldn't surprise me if most of the country was painfully aware of feeling a bit in the dumps.

Ah, see what I did there? Of course, there's a difference to being a bit blue and being clinically depressed, and for parents of young adults, teenagers and even younger children, it is very important to know the difference.

For example, what is the difference between your child just having a bad day, or your teen often being irritable or secretive because that's all part of hormones and growing up, and the onset of something more intractable that will require careful attention and treatment?

Granddad
Granddad

I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 16, although I had always been an anxious child due to an often uncertain home-life. For me, I can trace the true onset of major depression back to the death of my beloved grandfather, who suffered an unexpected and fatal heart attack in front of me when I was just 12.

The adults were allowed to grieve; I was told to 'put it behind me', although how I was expected to have the skills to get over the shocking death of the only male constant in my life is beyond me. My, now late, mother, many years later, told me that, in retrospect, she regretted the way she had handled it, but in fairness, it was 1980, and things were different then.

That evening, I had to call the ambulance for my gran and explain what had happened. I was staying with them over February half-term, while my sister was at our Dad's house.

The trauma of it still revisits me though, even now after adult therapy. It's still raw, 33 years later. It makes you less able to cope with adversity in a healthy way. The detail is still etched on my mind. It changed me, irrevocably.

Today, I'm great in a crisis, but I pay for it afterwards - a delayed reaction. I'm ever-vigilant, the fight or flight response never far from the surface. It's not an easy way to live.

Some Shocking Statistics*

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 - 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder - that is around three children in every class.
  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm  and around 25,000 are admitted to hospital every year due to the severity of their injuries.
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time.

Depression can often be part of illness

Anxiety and depression are also features of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, with which both Son2 and I have now been diagnosed, so I was predisposed, in any case.

Son2 hasn't had any trauma, but with EDS and Asperger's it was almost a dead-on cert that he would be affected. He has acute anxiety problems, but because of my experiences, I knew what to look for and he is receiving treatment. It won't 'fix' him, but it may help give him coping skills.

Son1, who also has ASD, has anxiety issues too. On the face of it, he looks like he's coping well with help from his specialist school, but I know it's still there, waiting to trip him up and so parental vigilance is needed.

Luckily for both of them, their father is the ultimate laid-back Dad (or in their speak, "soft as a pillow"), so they have a great male role model and a close-knit family. Even that, I know, is not always enough.

This is the first time I've ever written about my own depression and it isn't easy. I've been embarrassed, not wanting to show weakness. I can barely utter the words 'mental illness' in relation to myself. But just recently, since I've been ill, I've had to do a lot of reassessing. I expect I have felt the same way teenagers feel when they don't want to admit they are depressed or that there is anything bothering them at all.

Just because your child or young person hasn't suffered a huge trauma such as family break-up or bereavement does not mean they are not at risk of mental illness. Lack of confidence, being bullied, poor body image, difficulties at school can all be factors.

And that's not even taking into account any special needs they may have such as Asperger's, dyslexia or other learning problems that can affect self-esteem. Or they may just be genetically predisposed to it, especially if you or their other parent are affected.

young minds logoAs a parent, you need to know what you're looking for and Young Minds, the mental health charity for young people, have lots of resources on their site for parents and for young people themselves. Take a look, even if you don't think your child has a problem. Parents are often the last to know so knowledge is power. There is also a section for teachers on recognising and helping young people with mental health problems.

The usual NHS route for young people with mental health problems is via your GP and then to CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, but as you can see from the comments in this post that is a very variable service, depending on where you live. I really would advise checking out the Young Minds site as well.

I shared just some of my story to help raise awareness that depression can happen to anyone, at any age. But when it happens to a young person, without a vigilant adult, their problems can spiral out of control catastrophically. Self-harm is becoming more common, anorexia and other eating disorders are almost certain to include depression and far too many families are torn apart by the loss of a young person to suicide.

Teenagers are notoriously poor communicators; they are working on growing up and away, if they are able. Be watchful, be informed, keep talking. If you can't do this without arguments, try this book, the 1-2-3 Magic for surviving your teenagers. It will show you how to begin to see them as young adults in their own right, and no longer just your little ones.

If you'd like to share your experiences, resources, tips or knowledge I'd love to hear them!

* Source: Young Minds

Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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23 Comments

    1. Tania Tirraoro

      Sweetheart, my tip is – just hang on another day, and then another day. You’re depressed now, but if you don’t keep going, even though some days are tough, you will never know what you will have missed. When I was 17, I had no idea where I was going. I was lost. Some days I would get on the bus to college and not get off until the very end, well past my stop. Then I’d go home again. I thought about not being here often.
      But if I had acted on those thoughts, I would never have gone to college in London, got a post-grad, had a career in TV, met my husband, had my kids (unthinkable!), written three books. When it’s bad, you just have to get through the day.
      I read a lot – The Mahabarata, the great Hindu Text, other great works that took me away from myself.
      Seek more intensive help from your doctor or advice from a charity like The Samaritans. No one will think anything bad of you.
      From your blog, you sound like you are very anxious and there are people in your life who make you feel out of control. You may benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cognitieve gedragstherapie). Do an internet search in your area and see what comes up.
      I’m not a doctor, so I can’t advise further than my personal experience but I hope this helps. Best of luck
      Tania

      1. I really like what you said about living day by day, the funny thing about that is that I have been using that exact tip for a while now. For sports I have always had one slogan(Get TODAY right) and ever since i’ve had these ideas about ending my life, I just kept that in my mind.
        The other thing that kept me from taking the step is that I’m really curious about what will happen in my life(and more importantly, In technology).

        About the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: I have been working on it myself(with help of my doctor). Psychology has always been one of my biggest interests…Maybe that is the reason I got into this mess. On the other hand I got to use ”tricks” on myself which made my problems a lot smaller.

        Ps: How great is it that we can talk anonymously about whatever we think of and get such nice reactions from people. My first day on WordPress and I love it already!

  1. george1234

    Awesome piece of writing, very powerful and useful. I am concerned about my son aged 10 complex needs. This has been compounded by just receiving his annual review reports and spending a week together, him and I. I arranged a few “fun” trips with friends which were very tricky for him and upsetting for me to witness on a daily basis. Today, he was overwhelmed and crying uncontrollably in the gift shop at the science museum and there was no “safe” place to go and he didn’t want me anywhere near him. I felt helpless and had to help him out of the shop. Not easy, especially with audience. Anxiety and very low self-esteem are littered throughout his reports and his actions. The school are wonderful and are trying various strategies but I was feeling helpless at home tonight after digesting the reports and witnessing his release. The young minds website is a very good place to start. Thank you for writing Tania,about your experiences.

    1. Tania Tirraoro

      It’s a long haul when you’re coping with a child’s anxiety & low self-esteem. I can totally empathise with those very public meltdowns – I expect many people with ASD kids will know exactly what you were going through!
      The TES has a ‘Positivity Chart’ here http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Positivity-Chart-6327371/ that you can fill in with your child that may be a start to reinforcing the things he likes and is good at.
      I think self-esteem is something I should research and write about as it affects a child’s whole life experience and can be fundamental to their learning as well.

  2. Most people live with this condition without even knowing about what is happening to them while some are too embarrassed to talk about it or even admit it. People who are serious about dealing with this condition must work towards it seriously. There is a lot to do on the part of the patient in this regard.

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