A topic often overlooked and neglected by society, depression in children is more prominent than ever before. Many seem to simplify children’s emotions to a mere happy, sad, or angry, forgetting the fact that their emotions run much deeper. In the United States, a staggering 2.7 million children aged 3 to 17 were diagnosed with depression from 2016 to 2019. This calls us to begin more intentional discussion and action to work towards stagnating this rise. Yet, how can we have these conversations with little to no knowledge about the youngest of our population’s struggle with depression?
It is first important to consider the statistics that encapsulate the emotional pandemic at a glance. Depression in children is said to have increased by 25.2% worldwide since the start of Covid-19 with the prevalence of depressive symptoms doubling. This has further translated into more serious consequences, such as suicide being among leading causes of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14. This leads us to question what factors result in such a serious increase and how society has allowed children to slip through the cracks and into the depths of depression?
Ironically, it’s society itself that exacerbates children’s struggles.
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This begins in the most personal part of the child’s life, their relationship with their parents. A child’s upbringing plays a crucial role in their development as their mindset and perception of the world are shaped by how their parent externalizes their own. An article by Yih-Lan Liu discusses that a parent’s discussion of the world and the child’s world and future has a direct correlation to a child’s trajectory towards depression. For instance, a parent’s expressed disdain and resistance toward figures of authority can be reflected in a child’s future issues with boundaries and rules. This is prominently seen within the bounds of biological sex where girls exhibit depressive symptoms in relation to maternal messages while the equivalent occurs for boys. This can be observed in moments when a mother’s critical comments about her own body contribute to her daughter having poor body image as she grows up. Such effects cannot be contested when a study by Erasmus University reports that 61% of adolescents have dissatisfaction with their body, which has proved to subsequently lead to depression. Such factors and influences in the child’s personal space can snowball as they grow and materialize into negative emotions that lead to depression.
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While the child’s nuclear family does, as discussed, have a considerable effect on the development of depression, all the blame cannot simply be pushed in that direction. External factors, like social media, play an equally pivotal role. Growing up in an age where we are becoming increasingly interconnected and the idea of physical space and communication is becoming more and more unimportant, children are being immersed into a culture where there is a great emphasis placed on how others see them. Multiple studies have drawn strong links between the online world and struggles with mental health. The interactivity of social media makes it such that there is little to no control over what content a child consumes, an alarming fact as we consider how they explore the world through their screens in the most developmental years of their life. An overconsumption of social media creates a fixation on external validation and attention from other Internet users. This fosters a reliance within the child, as they grow up, where the level of their confidence draws from how they are perceived online, something many of us are all too familiar with. The impact of social media on a child’s mental health is further increased by the messages portrayed online. In the same way that a child is influenced by their parents, perceptions of the world and self externalized online can translate into the child’s own mindset.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Furthermore, our current public health crisis that we know as Covid-19 has altered our way of life as we know it, creating a new normal where we only see half of people’s faces from a regulated distance away. These measures have made interpersonal relationships all the more difficult to maintain, pushing individuals into physical isolation and further into the social media world. The new normal that encourages each of us to be alone is particularly harmful to a child who is in the midst of their developmental years. This environment of further isolation would hinder their growth, resulting in a lack of social and self-awareness skills with a warped idea of how society typically interacts. The child would hence place a lot of importance on what is communicated to them on social media. Thus, this makes the aforementioned effects of social media on a child’s mental health and development of depression all the more impactful.
Of course, depression is a multi-layered illness and much can be attributed to causing it, but what can be done to help a struggling child? Oftentimes, they may not be able to identify what they are experiencing in words, this is where education comes in. Something children often lack is proper knowledge of mental health conditions beyond the superficial that is advertised online. As a parent or older individual, it is important to do proper research and have casual conversations with the child to increase their awareness and hence give them the tools to become more familiar with it in themselves. This candidness about the often avoided topic would foster an open and safe environment where they can feel comfortable sharing and hence, feel accepted. It is key for a safe space to be created in the home, a place where they should be allowed to feel most comfortable.
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An alternative source of support for the child can be sought through child therapy, more specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Speaking to a professional in an established safe and trusted place may be a better option for some children who have trouble making sense of how they feel or opening up to parents. Moreover, CBT is catered to the age of the child by being conducted in new ways such as through play, stories or workbooks, to name a few. CBT Therapists are equipped with the tools and knowledge to understand a child emotionally and help parents do so as well such that care and support can be provided.
It is important to always remember that each child is different and their experience of depression is individually unique. What has been covered in this article may not apply to a child you know at all as it was a summary of various aspects of depression in children and should not be considered final. For deeper insight, referencing the sources provided below would be helpful. There is an abundance of information about mental health online, please remember to discern credibility appropriately.
If you feel the need to talk to someone, you can call the following hotlines;
1. Touchline by Touch Youth Services
They provide emotional support and practical advice to youth.
Monday – Friday | 9am – 6pm
2. Caregivers Alliance Limited
Supports caregivers or friends of those facing mental illness.
Main Line: +65 6460 4400
Caregivers Support Centre: +65 6388 2686
3. Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
Provides confidential emotional support for those in crisis, thinking of suicide, or affected by suicide.
- “Children’s Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains” by Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University