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The Informed Parent

The Depressed Youth

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Dec. 29, 2003

It is a common reality that holiday time can bring on depression--with a capital “D”. One needs to be aware of this phenomenon and be alert to the tale-tell symptoms.

But, what about your children? Does this only occur during the jolly time of year, or do you see the signs any time? If you suspect as much speak with your child’s pediatrician about your concerns that you child or adolescent is depressed. A diagnosis of depression is one that the pediatrician or other mental health professional makes when certain specific symptoms are present. The symptoms are significant and severe, and causing real disruption in your child’s daily functioning at home, at school, and in the community.

For example, a child may have difficulty sleeping. He may have lost interest in outside activities. There may be feelings of guilt. There may be a loss of energy. There may be poor concentration at school, resulting in lower grades. There might be a change of appetite. There may be an increase or decrease in a child‘s level of activity. Present also may be thoughts of suicide. These symptoms need to be obvious most of the time, for at least two weeks. If you are concerned about these issues in your child, it is important to discuss this with your child’s pediatrician for the best course of action.

Treatment of depression may involve therapy services for the child, and possibly also for the family. Serious cases may also benefit from a medication. Different medications are useful in the treatment of major depression in children and adolescents. In this article, we will discuss the use of St. John’s wort for depression. Next month we will discuss the use of antidepressants and prescription medication, for the treatment of depression.

Once again, all of these options need to be discussed at length with your child’s pediatrician, in order to determine the best diagnosis and course of treatment for your child.

There has been interest recently regarding the use of herbal preparations in the treatment of various disorders. A recent study investigated the efficacy of St. John’s wort for treatment of depressed children and adolescents. Thirty-three youths were enrolled in the study. The children were between the ages of 6 and 11 years, and the adolescents were between 12 and 16 years of age. All of the children met the symptom criteria for major depression, and they all were diagnosed as moderately depressed. The patients received treatment with St. John’s wort. Doses were increased as necessary. Side effects of the herbal preparation included dizziness, increased appetite, and loose stools. Improvements in the children’s depression, recorded by improvements in questionnaires, were noted in 25 of the 33 youths, at the end of the eight week trial.

Discuss with your child’s doctor if you are concerned that your child may be depressed. He or she may benefit from a referral to a mental health professional for a complete evaluation. If therapy alone does not bring improvement, discuss the possibility of the use of an herbal preparation, such as St. John’s wort, to help with your child’s depressed mood. Many children are also helped with the use of a prescription antidepressant. There has been recent research regarding the use of antidepressants, and this will be discussed in our next article.

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