How to know, how to help, if your child is depressed

Published3/2/2009 12:08 AM

Is it typical teenage angst or something more?

Is your grade schooler just going through a bad time, or is he suffering from depression?


And if it is depression, where do you go for help?

Depression is not a black and white issue, says Cathi Hendicks, a licensed clinical social worker. To help parents gain insights into it, she'll be one of the presenters at an upcoming Geneva Community Forum on depression.

"Empowered Parents, Empowered Children: Working Together to Overcome Depression" will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 5 in the gym at Williamsburg Elementary School, 1812 Williamsburg Ave., Geneva.

The Geneva Coalition for Youth and TriCity Family Services are supporting the forum, which will cover recognizing the signs of depression in elementary, middle school and high school age youths.

Participants will also learn where to turn for help and about various treatment options, and parents will get some tips on how to support their children.

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"We'll discuss symptoms, what to look for," Hendricks said. "We'll talk about what depression is and what it might look like in the different age groups, touching on preschoolers, school-age children and adolescents."

She'll also talk about help: treatments, preventive measures, including helping kids get through and cope with various issues, and resources.

Hendricks mentioned several times that depression, and diagnosing it, is not necessarily a simple matter. For example, is a child who's acting out defiant? Is the teen who's learning to stake out her own turf and become her own person or is she withdrawing because of depression?

Parents may not necessarily make the connection that in either situation, the child may be suffering from depression. "There's just so much going on," Hendricks said. "It's a process. It's not a black and white thing to pinpoint."

I went to a very similar forum more than three years ago, and wrote a column on the presentation. It was fact-filled and highly informative, and I'm thrilled that more parents will be able to get this information again.


Depression is more than feeling down or having a bad day, I learned at the earlier forum. Hendricks was at the earlier presentation as well, and said then that depression is "an illness when the feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair persist and interfere with your ability to function."

It's a mental illness, not just a mood. And, most importantly, "you can feel better again," she stressed.

Recent information indicates that depression occurs in about 5 percent of children and adolescents - and infants can suffer from depression as well, Hendricks said.

That can sound scary, and Hendricks does not want parents to freak out unnecessarily.

"We don't want to overwhelm people," Hendricks said. "We want to be there as an outlet. We want to help people understand this."

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