Seema Hingorrany, clinical psychologist and child expert, is releasing her book, Beating the Blues: A Complete Guide to Overcoming Depression, this month.
M&B got her to share some insights that will help you spot the signs of depression in your tot in time…
HOW COMMON, IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, IS THE INCIDENCE OF DEPRESSION AMONG KIDS IN INDIA?
Depression is very commonly seen in kids these days in India, more so because of the awareness that parents have about depression and other associated disorders. Say a decade ago, we never had cases of childhood depression, but now, I see atleast three to four cases of child depression or emotional disturbances every day. I have treated children as young as two and three years for this.
WHAT, ACCORDING TO YOU, ARE THE REASONS FOR THIS INCREASING INCIDENCE OF DEPRESSION AMONGST KIDS?
Reasons for depression vary from separation of the parents, leading to attachment issues with parents, divorce, serious emotional crisis in the child’s life, neglect, sexual or physical abuse, death of a loved one or anxiety stemming from unrealistic expectation from family members. Genetic background or chemical disturbance can also make some children prone to depression. It is also often seen in consonance with severe medical problems like asthma, head injury, juvenile diabetes and epilepsy. It is likely that a child with learning disability, hyperactivity, anxiety and autism will suffer from depression. Also, if one of the parents is suffering from depression, this can cause depression in the child. Too much information over-loading in the brain due to over-exposure, for example, too much time online and on gadgets can also lead to severe emotional disturbances. When you’re
COULD YOU PLEASE GIVE US A CHECKLIST OF SYMPTOMS THAT PARENTS CAN WATCH OUT FOR IN THEIR OWN CHILDREN?
* Frequent bouts of crying spells which is very often
* Feeling of helplessness and hopelessness
* Frequent (almost daily) fatigue and loss of energy
* Missed school or drop in school performance
* Lack of concentration in school and other activities
* Sudden academic decline
* Talking about fear of the unknown or the dark
* Irritability, temper tantrums, getting easily agitated
* Repeated physical complaints without medical cause (headache, stomachache,etc)
* Signifi cant increase or decrease in appetite
* Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
* Withdrawal from friends
* Suicidal thoughts, feeling or selfharming behaviour
Exhibiting just one symptom cannot be classifi ed as childhood depression. But if you spot more than six symptoms, and the symptoms of depression in your child have lasted for at least two weeks, it is important to seek help.
IS SUCH DEPRESSION CURABLE? WHAT ARE THE MEASURES THAT PARENTS MUST TAKE?
Depression is curable. Children who manifest symptoms of depression should be referred to and evaluated by a professional and qualifi ed psychologist. It must be considered that inadequately treated childhood depression raises risk of recurrent episodes of depression throughout life. Treatment differs according to the age of the child. With younger children, play therapy work the best, as children can communicate and express themselves openly to the therapist via the play way method. Therapy allows children to internalise this nurturing message and learn healthy self-care skills that carry into adulthood. It is always a privilege to be alongside children in the therapy room while they play out their innermost diffi culties, things that could not be put into words even perhaps by adults, and to support them in the process of healing from depression. It is thrilling when the parents tell me, “Yes, he is sleeping better,” or, “She is chirpier than before, and she can connect much more”. For older children and adolescents, cognitive therapy helps, as it focuses on changing the negative perceptions into positive self-talk. Medication may be also necessary, depending upon the nature of the case. Family therapy may be required if the root cause of the problem lies somewhere in the family.
ARE THERE ANY LIFESTYLE CHANGES THAT ARE REQUIRED TO PREVENT DEPRESSION FROM AFFECTING YOUNG CHILDREN?
In my clinical observation and experience in this fi eld, I feel that diet plays a very important role in combating depression in children. I usually also sometimes play the role of a dietitian doling out advice on how parents should make children eat breakfast and feed them healthy food. Other resources which need to be developed is giving children a healthy and safe environment, removing the volatile atmosphere from home, if any. Also, inculcating a positive attitude in the child by focusing on positive things about the environment and the people around. You should encourage your child’s friends to come home for spending time or pyjama parties. You must keep your marital discord in the bedroom, your child should not be privy to it. Also, make sure that he indulges in a lot of outdoor activities and activity such as swimming or sports are incorporated into the child’s current lifestyle.
HOW DID YOUR BOOK ON THIS SUBJECT COME ABOUT?
Depression is not a sign of personal flaw, it is not something you can just snap out of, it is not something to be ashamed of, it is treatable and everyone has a right to live in a healthy state of mind. And that is what I want to offer to my readers through this book. From understanding what it really means, its signs, causes, symptoms, to fi nding ways of getting cured, I will talk about it all. The book has examples, statistics, case studies, and workbooks that I use for my clients as well as therapies for treatment. Depression affects so many people that it is often referred to as the ‘common cold’ of mental illness. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that by 2020, depression will be the second biggest health problem worldwide and the leading cause of disability and death, second only to heart disease. I think it’s the right time for us to have a book on the subject, so that we get our facts clear. I have used my vast experience over the years as a clinical psychologist, play therapist and trauma expert to write this user-friendly and extremely practical book with the aim of helping depression sufferers. I believe it is the right time to come out with such a book in India where people have slowly started recognising that depression is a condition that cannot be treated lightly as it can go on to have serious life-threatening repercussions if left neglected, especially in children. My research includes all my collection of drawings done by children pre- and posttreatment in the therapy room. Also, my clinical observation as an expert, and track of all the symptoms which have been cured after the treatment plan. I realised that parents didn’t even know what childhood depression is. Also, many were not aware that the child is chronically depressed due to sexual abuse in the family. In my experience as a psychologist, many things surprisingly came up and were unfolded during the processing of the mind via these structured therapies. It was thus important to give psycho-education to parents and teachers on how to deal with childhood depression and take timely help if need be. The book is a compilation of all my experiences which will surely help parents deal with their own depression as well as that of their child. M&B
Words Priya Pathiyan