Childhood depression cannot be cured by a positive attitude or willpower.  If you think your child may be depressed, there are things you can do to help:

Where to start:

  • When broaching the subject with your child: "Be neutral and non-judgemental,” says child psychiatrist Dr. Marshall Korenblum. "Don't minimize. That will make them feel worse."
  • Most children won’t respond well if a parent says, ‘I think you’re depressed’. Try telling them that you've noticed their sadness and you want to help.
  • Make sure you are there if they want to talk.
  • Understand that this is an illness and depression does not go away spontaneously in a month or two. Untreated, depression could last for over two years.
  • Find out all you can about the illness.
  • Be supportive of your child. Parental support greatly affects the outcome of treatment.
  • Be an advocate. Push for help. Let the school know what is going on and ask for accommodation for your child if it is needed.
  • Know your family history. Depression often runs in the family. Find out if anyone in your child’s family has ever been depressed.
  • Get help as early as you can.

Where to get help:

  • Your family doctor. Sometimes other illnesses, like anemia or hypothyroidism, can mimic depression. After a blood test rules that out, get a referral to a child psychiatrist.
  • The school social worker (if there is one)
  • Support groups, like the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.
  • Local hospital. Therapists and social workers are provided free of charge in a hospital or mental health agency.
  • Local children’s mental health centres, like Hincks-Dellcrest. Treatment is free and they often provide help for the family too.

Treatment:

  • Getting your child to go to treatment can be most of the battle. If your child is under 16, you can force them to go to treatment, but it may not be easy. Young children may be afraid that their friends will think they are “crazy” or they are embarrassed. Dr. Korenblum suggests finding a list of famous people who suffer from depression. If an idol has it, it helps the child feel less alone. Also, relay your own stories of depression (if you have any). It removes some of the stigma and helps children feel more normal.
  • Young children are treated with individual and/or family therapy. In extreme cases, when there is a strong family history of depression, medication is prescribed. For teens, often a combination of antidepressants and a therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is tried.
  • Exercise is a natural treatment and can be used in combination with the above.

For more, read Childhood Mental Illness: It's Not Just a Phase