“My child is always in an irritable mood and cannot concentrate while studying. Over the past few months, his studies have gone haywire. He gets distracted easily and his academic performance has deteriorated. He is always throwing tantrums. He is basically a mischievous child and always complaining about a headache before going to school. He wasn’t like this before. If he wants he can perform better in school, he used to do that before, but now he just won’t.” said the mother of a 10 years old boy studying in class IV.
Presented with disruptive behaviors and lack of concentration and inability to perform adequately at school is often passed on by parents as the naughtiness of the child or the effects of the growing age or too much viewing of television. Parents often go to such an extent as to restrict the child completely from watching television. However, what they fail to gauge is that the problem is much serious and much deeper than what it appears to be. Their child might be suffering from childhood depression is something that never strikes them. In fact, studies have shown that usual care by primary care physicians fails to recognize 30-50% of depressed patients (Simon and Vonkorff, 1995). Children are often not considered to have been emotionally affected or emotionally disturbed because they may not always express it adequately or should I say that they do not express in the so-called “conventional” way. However, in some children persistent feeling of sadness, fatigue, somatic complaints, lack of interest in pleasurable activities may also be evident in which case it is much more noticeable. However, in some cases of childhood depression, as the case described above, parents or caregivers usually do not understand that the reason for it could be some sort emotional disturbance in the child. It often tends to go unnoticed. In an Indian study, it was found that 18.4% of school going adolescent was depressed (Bansal, Goyal and Srivastava, 2009). About 40 years ago, childhood depression was not even considered to exist but with an advancement of time, we are in a place where we have enough research evidence to support it.
Often, these kind of emotional disturbances are evident in children coming from broken homes, parents being victims of domestic violence, abandonment of the child by parents, inability to live up to the high expectations of the parent or being the victims of bullying.
Children are much more sensitive than adults are. The emotional upheaval that they go through after some stressful life event is much more difficult for them to handle than that of adults. Imagine a child, a poor innocent playful soul awaiting to taste the gift of life, and absorb its offerings is being driven forcefully to a deep dark cave with hardly any light and where that tiny soul is struggling. It is struggling to see the light of the day, struggling for somebody’s help and struggling to get out of it. Imagine those tiny souls being rinsed hard, so hard that they become incapacitated to express themselves adequately. Instead of experiencing the perks of life, their inner selves lose hope in life and in themselves. The bright colorful lives of theirs turn into a deep, dark, lonely experience.
Childhood depression is often masked and hence may go unnoticed by both caregivers and medical professionals. We should join hands to raise awareness regarding it. Depression is a treatable condition and with the help of mental health professionals, we can come out of it. Children with depression cannot merely pull themselves together but we adults can help them to find the right pieces to complete the jigsaw puzzle of life. Awareness of depression in children is important. We, as adults, should be a little less selfish and instead of focusing attention only on our own selves and being busy with our own emotions, should shift our attention to our children as well.
Let us stop judging their actions, let us try to understand them. Instead of restricting them from things they like, let us try to understand the cause of their misbehavior. Let us start believing that their emotions are important too. Let us start understanding that they have lesser means to cope with their feelings than adults. Let us stand by them. Let us stand for them. Let us stand with them.