Saturday | June 3, 2023

Recognizing Early Warning Signs of Child Depression


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What if He or She Just Has the Blues?


In recent years, there has been a groundswell of activism and campaigning to reduce the stigma of depression and mental health anomalies. A number of celebrities and public figures have come forward to tell their stories of struggling with depression.

Though we accept what we hear about adults dealing with depression, it’s difficult to recognize the early warning signs of depression in children. When a child or teen is withdrawn, sullen or frequently sad, adults often assume “It’s just a phase he’s going through.”, or “She’s just hormonal!”

Maybe your child is growing through a difficult time, or their emotions are being affected by hormones. Maybe there is a long term mental health condition which you should recognize, and work with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

Here is some guidance we’ve curated from professionals on how to determine:

  • If your son or daughter might have a depression disorder, or just have “the blues”
  • Common symptoms and signals you can watch for
  • When you should contact your doctor, social worker or other professional

How to Spot a “Black Dog” In Your Child’s Life

Australian author Matthew Johnstone published a compelling book living with depression called “I Had a Black Dog”. It has become a global phenomenon, and inspired an awareness campaign from the World Health Organization. It identifies depression as a mood disorder, but one which can be managed by therapy, medication or a physical wellness programs.

The “Black Dog Book” identifies many of the symptoms of living with depression like:

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Severe spikes in appetite, and weight loss or gain
  • Anger, guilt, feelings of worthlessness and/or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in activities your child usually loves to do
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and social events
  • Strange aches and pains
  • Difficulty concentrating, poor performance in school
  • General negativity or ambiguous thoughts
  • Lack of interest in personal hygiene, dress or being around people

If you find your child is expressing concerns about these symptoms, or if you observe them exhibiting these signs, try and start a dialog with them. Try not to be too confrontational about it, as your child may retract and hide their feelings. Concealing depression symptoms is another sign of clinical depression. Discuss your concerns with your child or teen supportively, not accusingly.

What if He or She Just Has the Blues?

If your child or teen is exhibiting some of these symptoms suddenly, or for a short term basis, they may just have a case of “the sads”. They may just need:

  • Fresh air
  • Exercise
  • A change in nutrition choices
  • A conversation with you that is calm and patient. Allow them the time to speak their feelings
  • To distance them from video games, social media or the internet
  • Space, understanding, and recognition that their feelings are important

There may be something happening at school, with relationships with friends or romantic interests that are causing “angst” or sadness. Try to help your child through what they are dealing with. If the symptoms persist, consider speaking with your family doctor about forms of treatment. There are also support resources at the school, either to “compare notes” on symptoms you are seeing, to get referrals to community programs, or talk to counsellors about options.

If you are noticing some of these warning signs of child depression, don’t despair. If you have been experiencing signs of sadness or stress yourself, your child or teen may be picking up on your emotional cues. Recognizing whether your son or daughter is suffering from a mood disorder, or just a temporary bout of the blues is important.

If your physician diagnoses your child as being mildly or deeply depressed, there are a number of pharmaceutical options which your doctor may recommend to treat their condition. Early detection often helps to diminish depression, and alternative approaches to medicine are often effective.

Other therapeutic options include:

  • Discussions with a therapist, social worker or psychiatrist/psychologist
  • Fitness programs
  • Family sessions with a mediator
  • Nutritional consultations

Regardless of the long term plan, starting with your family doctor is often the best first step. Other community resources like the CMHA, YMCA or peer groups might be a good next step. Your child’s future can be made drastically better if you open up a dialogue with them, help them feel safe, and work towards a mentally healthy future.

May 3rd, 2018

Posted In: Education, Nutrition, Parenting, Uncategorised

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How to Help Your Child Manage Peer Pressure

As your child gets older, she will become increasingly influenced by her peers. Sometimes this can be a good thing. For instance, your son might want to join certain school clubs or participate in extra-curricular activities because his friends are. Your daughter might want to read certain books because all her friends are reading them.

Other times, peer pressure can take a negative turn. Your child might be pressured by their peers to do things they wouldn’t normally want to do, like smoke cigarettes, cut class or exclude another student on purpose.

These situations can be hard to manage. Some kids will submit to peer pressure because they want their friends to like them. Joining the group, even in a questionable activity, can help them feel as though they’re fitting in. Sometimes, kids are afraid they’ll be made fun of if they use their better judgement and say “no.” At times, they just might be curious to have a new experience and understand what all the fuss is about.

As a parent, you’ll want to prepare your child to deal with difficult situations in which they might be pressured by their peer group to do something they know is wrong. How can you help? Here are a few tips.

​1. Teach them to go with their gut

​Your child will instinctively know what’s right and wrong. They’ll get that feeling in their stomach or hear the voice in their head telling them it’s wrong to lie to their parents, that it’s unhealthy to smoke and that they are hurting someone’s feelings by being a bully. Let them know how important it is to recognize these instincts. Reinforce positive values.

​Make sure you tell your child how proud you are of good behaviour and healthy decisions. This will help build your child’s confidence as he or she grows older. It will also strengthen your relationship. When your child is faced with a problem, he will be more likely to communicate with you and reach out to you for advice if you already have a trusting bond.

2. ​Help manage friendships

​Encourage your child to choose their friends wisely. If you notice that certain friends are a good influence, invite them over or suggest they join an activity together. Let your child know how much you like their friend and explain why.

​You might need to tread carefully if you see your child spending more time with a friend who you know is likely to be a bad influence. Discouraging or banning the friendship outright might only bring them closer together. The best thing you can do is have an open and honest conversation with your child about your concerns.

​Make sure you impress upon your child the importance of saying “no” if they are being pressured to do things they don’t want to do. Reinforce the idea they shouldn’t put negative peer pressure on others by goading them into doing something they don’t want to do. As much as they should know to say “no,” they must listen when others say “no,” too. Encourage your child to have lots of different friends and to be part of a variety of social circles so they have the opportunity to pick and choose the friends who share similar values and make them feel good about themselves.

3. Teach your child how to say “no”

​It can be hard to say “no,” but if you give your child the tools they need, they will be able to steer clear of trouble. Sit down with your child and have a frank discussion. “What would you say if your friend told you to smoke a cigarette?” you might ask. Or “What would you do if your friend wanted you to shoplift?” See how your child responds. If they are unsure of what to say, this is your chance to guide them. Talk to them about why it’s wrong to smoke, do drugs or lie to their parents. Discuss the potential consequences to their health or safety.

​Give them the facts and information they need to understand your point of view. While it’s great to be armed with information, sometimes, it can even be as simple as saying, “I’ve already told you ‘no’. Please don’t ask again.” Encourage them to back up a friend who is also being pressured to do something wrong.

​Let them know it’s ok to walk away. You might want to role play various scenarios together. If that doesn’t appeal to your child, suggest practicing in the mirror. In future, they might want to spend more time with their other friends who don’t make them feel uncomfortable. You might also be pleasantly surprised when your child is able to confidently respond “no” to peer pressure.

If your child has made mistakes or is having trouble saying “no,” encourage them to talk to someone who can help. This might be you, a guidance counsellor, teacher or coach. It’s never too late to learn.

September 29th, 2017

Posted In: Community, Education, Parenting, Uncategorised

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Helping Your Teen Cope With Problems in High School

High school can be an exciting time filled with possibility and opportunity for your teenager. But it can also come with its fare share of problems.

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Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress


The chance to delve into new subjects can be counterbalanced by the pressure to manage a school schedule with many courses, projects and deadlines. There are new social situations and relationships to manage, peer pressure to deal with and social media dilemmas. There are extra-curricular activities and volunteer obligations that can demand an increasing chunk of your teen’s time. Meanwhile, getting top grades becomes increasingly important when guidance counsellors start talking to your teen about university applications and the competitive nature of being accepted to a program of your teen’s choice. There are also typical hormonal changes and physical developments that can be confusing at times.

It’s no wonder more teenagers than ever before report having had a major depressive episode, or MDE. This is defined as a stint of at least two weeks in which a teen experiences low mood and energy, reduced self esteem, loss of interest in activities, difficulty sleeping with sleeping problems concentrating. In fact, a recent study of young adults published Pediatrics found that the percentage of adolescents who had an MDE jumped from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.5 percent in 2014. That’s an increase of 37 percent in just a few years.

This data has left experts and parents concerned as there hasn’t been an equal increase in mental health interventions for adolescents. Many are under-treated or not treated at all for these symptoms.

So how can you help your teen face problems they are sure to encounter in high school? Here are a few strategies you can use to guide your teen along a positive path.

1. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress

​Why not go for a walk or hike with your teen? Enjoy a bike ride together or hit the gym regularly. This will enable you to both increase your endorphins while spending time doing something together. Make sure you work it into your schedule and go at a time that’s doesn’t interfere with sleep or upcoming deadlines.

2. Make sure your teen takes breaks to focus on friendships and activities they enjoy

​This strategy has also been shown to reduce stress, and it’s critical for their overall health and wellbeing. Whether they like hanging out with friends, seeing a movie, playing hockey or taking an art class, hobbies and friendships offer a much needed break from the pressures of academics.

3. Enforce good study habits

​Help your teen stay on top of deadlines and tests with an agenda and a regular schedule for completing homework. Show them how to organize and prioritize deadlines, perhaps by showing them your own personal strategies. Make sure homework is done in a peaceful environment clear of distraction. This might mean they study in their room without their smartphone next to them. Social media can be a major distraction and can prevent them from focussing on their work. Suggest your teen to speak with you, their teacher or guidance counsellor if they are having difficulty managing.

4. Encourage your teen to talk to you if they are feeling stressed or have other challenges at school, whether it is social or otherwise

You don’t have to offer advice or lecture them. Sometimes, they just want someone who will listen and not offer judgement. Ask your teen how they felt in that situation, what they wish they would have done instead and how they hope to respond in future if the same situation arises. In this way, you’re helping them work through problems in a way that is comfortable, constructive and feels safe to your teen.

5. The importance of good nutrition and proper sleep patters cannot be underestimated

​Make sure your teen is eating healthy, nutritious foods at regular intervals so they have energy to concentrate and think. Breakfast is an important meal that gets their day off to a decent start. Encourage them not to skip meals. Do pack snacks and water in their backpack in case they get hungry during the day. Enforce a proper bedtime, especially on school nights, so they feel refreshed at the start of each day. A lack of sleep can result in miserable mood and an inability to think clearly. Consider a tech-free bedroom to ensure your teen doesn’t end up on social media until the wee hours.

September 6th, 2017

Posted In: Community, Education, Nutrition, Parenting, Technology, Uncategorised

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