Ashish Karnik (name changed), six, often refused to go to school. He seemed withdrawn, shy, and rarely maintained eye contact. When taken to a doctor, he was reluctant to answer questions and was fidgety. It was diagnosed that his dysfunctional family [that fought constantly and an untimely change of school] had left Ashish depressed.
While there has been a lot of discussion recently about depression among adults, after Deepika Padukone chose to speak about her own battles with the disorder, the condition still goes unnoticed among children.
"Depression in kids is not considered to be common. The symptoms in Ashish's case are a few of the many manifestations of the condition in children. It goes unnoticed by parents and undiagnosed by clinicians as it differs from its presentation in adults. However, in general, the age of onset of depression has gradually been reducing. We now see at least three-four cases per week in the 6-15 age group," says Dr Ashit Sheth, psychiatrist, Cumballa Hill Hospital and Heart Institute, Kemps Corner.
Read the signs
The most common reasons for depression in kids are absentee or demanding parents, parental conflict, separation anxiety, academic pressure, school change, misunderstanding among friends, sexual abuse and bullying. Among the pre-adolescent and adolescent population, the above reasons exist and get compounded with issues like failed relationships, the inability to approach their crushes, and rejection from someone of the opposite sex. They have serious consequences.
One of the best ways to counter rising levels of depression among kids and teens is for parents to have open communication with their kids.
According to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,738 kids under the age of 14 committed suicide due to various reasons in 2012. India still has one of the world's highest rates of suicides in the 15-29 age group. And a common cause for concern among those aged 16-18 is the pressure from parents to do well in the national board examinations. In 2013, 2,471 suicides were attributed to "failure in examination". Also, the data collected by the state public health department through the newly launched mental health helpline found that the maximum calls received by the helpline operators have been on issues such as domestic violence and sexual assault, followed by calls on children's issues or adolescence related issues. The service received 99 calls until March 9, of which 19 were about issues pertaining to children such as peer pressure, exam stress and bullying.
Relationships and crushes add more complications. When Sushma Dwivedi took her moody 14-year-old daughter to the family doctor after she had begun skipping meals, she wasn't expecting to be told that her daughter needed psychological help. "We were in a dilemma about whether we should get her professional help or not. But then she started talking about how life was not worth living. We were told that she was clinically depressed after her boyfriend had dumped her for her best friend. This news spread in their social circle, making her a constant target of bullies," she says.
Talk it out
Experts maintain that one of the best ways to counter rising levels of depression among kids and teens is for parents to have open communication with their kids. Also, with younger children, they need to keep an eye out for constant pains and aches that cannot be explained by tests and medical evaluation. "Other signs could include constant sadness, crying spells, problems with appetite, loss of sleep, weight issues, mood swings, talk of suicide or of being worthless, withdrawal, aggression, or seeming to lose interest in daily activities. All these symptoms need to be looked at, especially if they are prolonged and sustained," says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant in psychiatric medicine, Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar.
And while reassurance, support and acceptance are keywords when it comes to dealing with this condition, very often it might be essential to use the services of a mental health professional, and seek the benefits associated with specialised counselling, or even medication in some cases. "It is important to create awareness about signs that indicate the early onset of depression," says Dr Manohar Lohia, a city-based psychologist.