When Your Child Is Depressed
Have you noticed that your child is having difficulty sleeping, or seems tired all the time? Has she suddenly begun to dislike activities she used to enjoy? Has he been especially sad or hopeless? Has he or she expressed morbid or even suicidal thoughts? Are you beginning to feel very worried? Help Me,I'm Sad: Recognizing, treating, and Preventing Childhood and Adolescent Depression can be an invaluable resource for parents concerned about the emotional health of their child.
"Help me, I'm sad": These are a child's words for describing depression, an emotional state so painful that sleeping, eating, and concentration can become impaired. More than 1.5 million American youngsters suffer from this condition. In their new book, David Fassler, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry for Choate Health Systems in Massachusetts, and Lynne Dumas, a former teacher and author of books and articles on children, expertly clarify what depression looks like in infants, children, and adolescents and explore the most up-to-date research on understanding, coping with, preventing, and treating childhood depression. Writing in a warm and reassuring tone, they sensitively and thoroughly address the impact of depression on families.
Fassler and Dumas aim to provide guidance and support to parents, whether single, divorced, or married, so that these parents can guide and support their depressed child. The first step is recognizing what's wrong; once that's accomplished, parents can begin to seek help. The search for the best therapist can itselfbeoverwhelming and disorienting, so the authors provide clear and comprehensive explanations about the different kinds of therapy available for depressed kids. The information and advice they provide empowers parents to make informed choices about their family's treatment and care they address critical issues such as whether or not it's appropriate to treat a child with medication, and suggest questions to ask mental health professionals to ensure that the family is receiving optimal care.
In my professional experience as a family therapist, children do best when their parents participate in the treatment process. Fassler and Dumas agree: They strongly encourage parents to be active participants in their child's therapy, and they offer thoughtful and sensitive pointers for parents to help their child toward recovery and foster resiliency against future life problems. These pointers, which include "help your child have fun," "respect your child's feelings," and "keep talking and listening," remind parents that their relationship with their depressed child is vital to his or her emotional well-being.
Fassler and Dumas also discuss the impact of depression on all family members. Often, the family tends to focus only on the "sick" member, but a child's depression can affect everyone involved, creating a mood of helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, and anxiety. The authors encourage parents to think about and understand their own feelings, as well as those of their other kids. Fassler and Dumas provide practical strategies that enable everyone in the family to work together with hope and patience, even when feeling frustrated, sad, angry, and potentially estranged from one another, and they offer suggestions for attaining professional help for all family members.
Fassler and Dumas offer clear and comprehensive information, reassurance, and warm support to parents who suspect their child might be depressed, along with concrete suggestions that will help parents overcome their feelings of anxiety and helplessness by taking action to help their child. Perhaps most important, readers of Help Me, I'm Sad will learn that they are not alone and that there is hope for the future health and happiness of their family.
Danica Altman is a clinical psychologist in New York City who has worked extensively with families of depressed children.