In 2019, 93,000 young adults died by suicide, owing to mental illness, family and relationship problems, and drug abuse. According to a WHO report in 2017, India is home to 57 million people who are depressed. Depression does not only affect adults but also children, teens and young adults. A survey conducted by ICICI in 2017 reported that 65% of young adults between 22-25 years of age who responded to the survey showed signs of early depression. In 2012, WHO released the "Mental Health Status of Adolescents in South-East Asia: Evidence for Action" report, which said that one in four teens in India were depressed. 

Depression is a complex disease that is caused by several factors including biological, social, economic and cultural factors. Traumatic experiences in early childhood, frequent migration, negative life events, educational setbacks, early relationship problems, family history of mental illness as well as stress at school and in the family are linked in varying degrees to depression among children and adolescents.

  1. Signs and symptoms of depression in children
  2. How you can help children with depression
  3. Takeaway
Doctors for Depression in Children

Depression in children, teens and young adults can be often hard to recognize due to varied representation but the following are some of the signs you can be watchful for in your child and teen:

  • Withdrawal from friends or lack of communicative behaviour 
  • Apathy, lack of interest
  • A drop in performance at school
  • Excessive eating or complete loss of appetite leading to a sudden weight change
  • Sadness, irritability, tantrums, crying for no reason or severe response to slight criticism
  • Unexplained complaints of physical pain - headachestomach acheback pain 
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Preoccupation with death, talking or joking about suicide
  • Irresponsible behaviour, lack of responsibility
  • Use of alcohol, drugs 
  • Excessive use of social media

Following are the few ways in which you could help your children if they’re suffering from depression:

Talk about it, but listen more: Depression is associated with a huge stigma, which prevents a person from even talking about it, let alone seek help. In a multisite international study, 20–37% of persons with depression in India were reported to have stopped themselves from doing something important because of anticipated discrimination (“why try” effect). While this was a study on adults, the pressure on a young person can be even greater, especially when they’re going through many physical changes and don't have a lot of self-awareness. A parent can encourage their child to talk about their feelings by being open and welcoming. They can share their own challenges. Setting aside time daily to talk face to face with your child, with no distractions will go a long way to support their mental health. It’s important to listen and acknowledge their feelings and get them to share. Don’t try and talk them “out” of depression. The focus should be on listening and not lecturing.

Be kind: Create an open, loving and encouraging atmosphere at home and school. All parents and guardians want the best for their children but exposure to negative parental influences such as a critical and condemning parental or teaching style during early childhood may give rise to negative feelings about oneself. This can cause depression. A harsh, tense atmosphere at home creates a sense of insecurity and fear in a child that initiates a cascade of biochemical changes in children and teens, which leads to stress and feelings of loneliness and can contribute to depression. Contrary to that, a feeling of security at home generated by encouragement and love can promote both mental and physical health for a young one.

Get to know and be friendly with your child’s friends: Spiritual teacher and humanitarian, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar often gives this advice to parents who wish to change their child’s behaviour- if we want to impact our child and change a certain behaviour, we have to get to know their friends and impact them as well. If you feel your child has withdrawn and is exhibiting strange behaviour and won’t communicate, the best way to understand them is through their friends. Get to know their friends - it will be worth it.

Don’t give up on your teen: Your teen or child may try to shut you out or not communicate in spite of your repeated efforts. They also might reject the help you try and give them, but don’t give up. Setting up a daily routine at home with face-to-face communication, limiting screen-time and doing activities together will break those barriers.

Introduce them to yoga, meditation and breathing exercises: Depression is also a biochemical process in the brain and the body. Yogameditation and breathing exercises, like Sudarshan Kriya taught by the Art of Living, help one release the neurochemicals and hormones that can reduce depression. The elements of deep breathing, stretching and relaxation allow neurochemicals like endorphins, serotonin and GABA to be released; these make one happy and contented. By introducing them to these powerful holistic practices, you are also giving them a gift that will last their entire life. 

Make room for arts, sports, music and other cultural activities: Get your kid to move! Physical activity and creativity are extremely important for mental health. It is also a great way to combat social media addiction and social isolation, which can accompany depression. Help your child explore what creative or physical activity makes them happy and encourage it.

Find a way to inspire them to study, not pressurize them: Traditionally, India is a society focussed on high academic performance and rigorous studies. Even now, in most families, the mental prowess of a child is only determined by their marks/grades. For parents, their child’s performance at school is a matter of social pride or an indication of their failure as a parent. This creates a lot of pressure at home, both for the parent and child. Unfortunately, the way our brain works is that under stress, we tend to become less aware and make silly mistakes. Putting pressure on a child through scolding and berating them can make them negative and less attentive. It is better to encourage and inspire them to excel in academics and find their own path.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Someone wise once said, children might not listen to you but they never fail to imitate you. As a guardian or a parent, if you have a healthy lifestyle with components of exercise, holistic practices, a well-balanced diet and limited screen time, your children will pick up these healthy habits automatically. Best to walk the walk, then just talk the talk. If we want our children to have a healthy lifestyle, we must lead by example. 

Take care of yourself: Depression not just affects an individual but the entire family. In India, an average family spends at least Rs 1,500 a month to treat a depressed family member. They also experience significant mental and physical duress in the process of taking care of a family member undergoing depression. It is as important to take care of oneself. With techniques of yoga, meditation and Sudarshan Kriya, one can learn to calm the mind, increase patience and resilience, and be centered. When one’s mind is calm and body is rested, it is much easier to be available for others to take care of them.

In addition to the above, do seek out professional help. It is helpful for the child/teen to talk to an adult with experience in helping others in the same situation.

Remember that depression is not an incurable state. With proper care of mind and body and a positive social environment, it can be easily managed. Holistic ways of managing depression, like Sudarshan Kriya, can be effective and have no negative side effects.

This article has been contributed by Divya Kanchibhotla. The author is a senior meditation teacher and the Executive Director at The Art of Living's Sri Sri Institute for Advanced Research.

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