Screen Your Child or Teen for Depression—Before It's Too Late

The truth about mental health disorders in children

Feeling sad, down or irritable every so often are normal reactions to stressful situations. But if your child or teen is depressed, these feelings of stress may lead to serious problems. About 20% of teenagers and kids experience depression before they reach adulthood.

Denise Dutchak, M.D. a child psychiatrist with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, says the signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers can be negative and destructive thoughts, words and behaviors. “Often, what the parents tell me is that their child or teen is isolating themselves in their room,” Dr. Dutchak says. “They aren’t coming out and enjoying family activities, they’re not talking to their friends, they’re withdrawing at school, or they’re irritable, defiant and self-defeating. Sleep disturbance, changes in appetite and tiredness may also indicate a depressive disorder.”

Depression may be caused by untreated stress, a family history of mood disorders, history of abuse and neglect, substance abuse, untreated anxiety disorders, medications, an environment that is not respectful and devalues the child or teen. Certain medical conditions may manifest as depression.

“It’s a very serious problem and if a parent, teacher, friend or anybody has a question about it, then they need to get that person help,” Dr. Dutchak says. “There is excellent treatment out there, such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication treatment, improvement of health with better nutrition and exercise, improvement in relationships with family and friends so that they can live a healthy life and don’t have to suffer.”

If your child or teenager’s behavior and mood have changed, it may be time to screen them for depression.

“It’s just a 9-question evaluation graded from zero to three, and anything above a certain score may indicate the presence of depression,” Dr. Dutchak explains. “One of the key issues is how depressed are they? Are they to the point where they have lost interest and meaning to their lives? Are they suicidal? Or is their behavior an adjustment to stress in their lives?”

Signs & symptoms of childhood & teenage depression may include:

  • Sadness, crying
  • Isolation, withdrawal from family and friends
  • Impaired sleep—too much or too little
  • Appetite changes
  • Loss of interest in school and other activities
  • Decreased grades
  • Defiance
  • Engaging in negative and self-defeating behaviors
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-injury, suicidal thoughts and/or attempts

Pediatric Behavioral Health Intiative

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Denise A. Dutchak, M.D.
Pediatric Behavioral Health
Lee Physician Group
Psychiatric Consultation Services
12550 New Brittany Blvd.
Suite 201
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Tags: Pediatric Behavioral Health, depression, mental health, behavioral health