Childhood Depression
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In this medical health video Dr. Maria Kovacs discusses the latest research on childhood depression, including medication and alternative therapy, and explains why she is hopeful about the future of research.


Female Speaker: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as one in every 33 children and one in eight teenagers suffers from major depression. At a recent symposium organized by NARSAD, The Mental Health Research Association, experts gathered to discuss mental health issues relating to children and adolescents. Dr. Maria Kovacs of the University of Pittsburgh discussed this debilitating childhood disease. Dr. Maria Kovacs: One of the ways in which childhood depression differs from adult depression is that this problem with mood in children can also show us irritability, crankiness, hard to get along with the child. This we don't see that much in adults. In addition to the mood, usually both children and adults who have depression, have other symptoms, they have trouble with their sleep, they either sleep too much or they sleep too little. They have trouble with their energy level. Typically, they feel very tired. There also are changes in thinking, such as thinking, becoming hopeless and having a sense of restlessness. Female Speaker: Major depression in children and adolescents can lead to thoughts of death and these thoughts can lead to suicide attempts. In fact, the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years is suicide. Dr. Maria Kovacs: You can think of suicide almost as a continuum, okay? So probably the mildest version of it is when children or adolescents just think about dying or think about their own death. And the next more serious version is when they actually think about suicide and they'll have thoughts like, boy! Maybe I should kill myself, and things of that sort. The next degree of seriousness is when they really start thinking about plans. The next more serious version is when they actually attempt, have a suicide attempt. And then of course, that can have two outcomes, either it's fatal or it's not fatal. Now what we already know about suicide attempts is that once the child progresses to having made a suicide attempt, he is at a very high risk for repeating a suicide attempt. Female Speaker: While stress, anxiety and life events can lead to major depression. Recent studies have shown that genetics play an important part in a person's predisposition to the disease. Dr. Maria Kovacs: They have estimated that the odds of a child having depression, if the parents have had depression is eight times higher, than if the parent didn't have depression. Female Speaker: The recent controversy over the use of antidepressants in children has left parents wondering what to do, if they discover their child suffers from depression. Dr. Maria Kovacs: The controversy about the medication has to do with the fact that, there appears to be some adverse side-effects with anti-depressant medication, meaning that there is some evidence that it might increase the risk of suicidality in some kids. But the issue of side-effect is something we have with every kind of medication. So, I think that the answer to the medication issue would be that, whoever is -- the child's doctor has to take into consideration, the benefits versus the risks. There is no other way of managing these issues. Female Speaker: Finding ways to prevent depression in children is the next goal of research. Particularly our studies have shown that children suffering from depression have 60%-70% chance, they will fall victim to depression or other mental illnesses as adults. Dr. Kovacs is hopeful that this statistic can become a thing of the past with the development of new prevention methods. Dr. Maria Kovacs: Twenty years ago, if you had a problem with serious emotions, we didn't know what to do with it, okay? Because people believed that emotions were just there. Over the last 10-15 years, I think we have an understanding that emotions can be regulated by the person, that you can change the intensity of your emotions and how long, how you feel certain emotions. And I really believe that if we are able to identify kids at risk for depression and then the look at those children who are already having some difficulties in containing, we are talking about containment, containing the emotion, not getting rid of it. But just managing the emotions so that it doesn't take over your life. If we can do that, I think that we are going to be able to be successful. The way to think of it is, is that we want children to have emotions, but we don't want the emotions to have the child. Female Speaker: Over the last few years, depression has come out of the shadows. People suffering from depression have begun speaking about their experiences and getting help has become easier. Dr. Maria Kovacs: So, it's no longer something strange or something bad or it's not something that you did, because somebody else had it, so the process of, I think, healing starts at that point, because you can start talking about it, you can start to get help for it. I think, it's enormously important.