Depression is among the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Those struggling with depression can experience a range of symptoms, from disrupted sleeping issues to suicidal attempts. Understanding depression from the outside can be challenging for parents. Kids might experience some overlap of depression symptoms during specific situations, or they might struggle temporarily to cope with tragic events, like the loss of a loved one.
However, clinical depression is a feeling beyond sadness or a response to a situation. While a particular event might trigger an episode of clinical depression, getting out of a depressive cycle might take weeks, months, or even years beyond the person’s usual time frame to cope.
What Does Depression Feel Like?
Parents might not understand what their child’s depression feels like. They might see the outside behaviors and think, “why can’t they just snap out of this?” We might look at our kid’s depression as the result of their inaction. “If they just got out of bed, they’d feel a lot better. Why can’t they just get up and move?”
Unfortunately, depression affects the brain’s processing and rational thinking. While, on the outside, we believe the solutions are simple—just get out of bed and stop acting so sad! However, for kids experiencing depression, their decision-making skills might be hijacked by their depression. They might not have the ability to look ahead to the future or see that this is a temporary feeling. Their brains are struggling to allow hopeful thoughts to enter. As they cannot envision a bright future, their bodies follow suit. They might resign themselves to long periods of inaction, little care for hobbies or interests, isolating themselves from friends and family, and even neglecting basic self-care.
The body follows the brain and vice versa. When a child’s brain cannot look ahead or plan for the future, the body begins to shut down, even experiencing weakness and pain with no physical explanation.
The Shame of Depression
Contributing to depression is the shame of depression. Kids know that something is wrong; they know that we might feel upset about what is going on. They might even suspect that we are disappointed in them for their mental health disorder! When kids start to blame themselves for their depression, the cycle of shame begins, and kids can sink further into their depression. They start to believe that they are flawed, hopeless, perhaps even thinking that they are lazy or not worthy of happiness!
Shame is an incredibly damaging emotion. Kids experiencing depression cannot help themselves—they have a disorder just as real as any physical ailment. They are aware of the fact that this is not who they usually are. They might long to break free from the cycle just as much as we want them to snap out of it. Comparing themselves in their depressed state to who they usually are can be harrowing for kids. They might fear that their depressed state of mind is a forever state of being. Again, these types of thoughts are not only symptoms of depression. These thoughts continue to fuel the cycle as depression grows to the point of feeling utter helplessness.
Supporting Kids Through Depression
There will not be a quick fix for depression. Usually, depression begins as low-level sadness that builds over time. Our kid’s depression did not occur overnight or instantaneously. The process of getting through this challenging time will similarly take time. As parents, recognizing that healing from depression will take time can help kids get through more easily. When kids feel like they should be better or should snap out of it, that is when the shame takes hold. Attempting to rush treatment of depression will only compound the issue, as kids might feel disappointed in their progress and continue to blame themselves.
Just being there for kids and noticing the small things can help parents remain patient throughout this process. Kids might need to engage in therapy to talk through their issues. Therapy can help kids process their problems and see hope again. The brain begins to heal through treatment, as talking through issues and applying cognitive-behavioral techniques enhances a child’s ability to plan for the future and cope with temporary problems.
Once the brain begins to heal, the body starts to follow, and we might begin to see our kids out of bed more each day. We might see them combing their hair, showering, or focusing on schoolwork. The occasional smile might appear and gradual return as we begin to get our kids back from the brink of despair, and we can be sure to share our excitement that they are feeling better.
Depression can be difficult to comprehend from the outside. For those looking in on someone with depression, we might wonder why they cannot simply move on and snap out of it. We might think, “if they just did something instead of laying around, they wouldn’t feel so depressed!” Depression affects the way that the brain processes and plans for the future. Just getting up and moving is not so simple; the brain cannot envision a future to motivate the person to move forward. When kids experience depression, they might feel shameful about what is occurring. They know that they can do better, yet something is wrong that they cannot fix themselves or just snap out of it. For kids experiencing depression, residential treatment might be the right next step for them to move forward and heal. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here for kids who struggle, and we are also here for parents to learn skills to help their kids. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.