Childhood Depression and its Burden on the Parents

Parents obviously want their children to be healthy at all times, hoping for them to avoid those colds and fevers. But if a child happens to catch a cold or another common physical ailment, chances are there’s a protocol that most parents follow to get rid of that illness – and for the most part, those steps will guarantee that the child will be back to playing with others in no time. But what if the child has a problem that’s not physical? For many mental-health issues, even adults who suffer them don’t follow the same medical advice nor do we expect an identical result even if we do follow the same guidelines. For parents of those kids  who may suffer from illnesses like depression, it’s not as easy as simply feeding them some cherry-flavored medicine to make those blues disappear. Apparently, this dilemma of finding a way to treat a little kid’s mental-health problem is growing.

It was reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that almost 15 percent of preschoolers have atypically high levels of depression and anxiety. On a similar note, an article published in the Archives of General Psychiatry concluded the younger the child affected by depression, the more likely depression was an unwelcome companion for life. Not only could depression become one’s companion, so could the drugs to help get rid of this unwanted partner. Preschoolers now comprise the fastest growing demographic of psychiatric-drug-use  in the United States, and as many as three in 1,000 children age 6 and under are taking some kind of mental-health medication.

Upon seeing the above data, it’s easy to think that these so-called child depression is simply a label created by parents who don’t want to deal with kids being kids. Or we could immediately blame the pharmaceutical companies for pushing these drugs to the youngest of clients. But it’s a lot more complicated.

I happen to come across an article, The Rise of Preschool Depression, by Sara Reistad-Long on thedailybeast.com, that recorded the thoughts of some parents who have children with mental illnesses. One comes to realize just how much these parents agonize over having to medicate their children knowing the view that surrounds them. Though the article gave me some idea of the burden that these parents must shoulder, it was from seeing the reader comments that gave me a real idea of just how heavy that burden must be. If one thinks these parents find it easy to feed prozac to their kids, the verbal venom thrown at them by strangers will show you otherwise.

It’s true that we are living in an overmedicated society, and we do need to figure out what could be done to shape a culture that’s not so dependent on pills. But when we target the parents of these children for medicating them, we’ve forgotten to even wonder if we as a society had missed the severity and prevalence of childhood depression all along. I can say from experience that I wish someone had asked me if I was doing emotionally okay when I was a kid.

Really, we don’t know what it’s like to be these parents until we’re put in that situation. As the parent in Reistad-Long’s article puts it: “Until you have lived this, you really don’t know, and can’t honestly say what you would do.”

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