Fred Rogers, famous as TV’s Mister Rogers, was a gentle, thoughtful man whose unique way of talking about feelings put children at ease. When he testified before Congress in 1969 for public support of intelligent TV programming for children, Rogers told the Senate Commerce Committee chairman that “feelings are mentionable and manageable.”
These words came to mind when I read results of a new study on depression in children. Published this week in the journal Translational Psychiatry, it reveals alarming data about the state of children’s mental health in the U.S. Notably, the researchers found that depression in children appears to start as early as age 11, and by the time they reach age 17, 13.6 percent of boys and an astonishing 36.1 percent of girls have been or are depressed.
This was a large study involving in-person interviews with more than 100,000 children who participated in the National Survey of Drug Use and Health from 2009 to 2014. The study’s author, Elizabeth Miller, is Director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Miller said that until researchers can get a better understanding of why some people can come out of depression without intervention while others need help, parents, teachers and others who work with children should learn to recognize the signs of childhood depression.
What are those signs? According to Nina Slovik, LICSW, Community Based Flexible Supports Clinic Director for CHD, parents should look for warning signs of depression, such as:
- Seeming more withdrawn, reactive, irritable, or sad
- Stomach pain, headaches, etc., without any discernable cause
- Missing school/cutting classes/acting out in class
- Changes that might correlate with time spent on social media
- Victim (or potentially perpetrator) of bullying
- Recent significant losses (e.g., death of a close relative friend, or pet, or divorce of parents)
- Unusual preoccupation with celebrity deaths or current event disasters (e.g., mass killings)
Many children and teens with emotional problems keep their pain secret. Others express their feelings in risky or offensive ways. Due largely to stigma—fear, shame, and misunderstanding about mental health disorders—about half never receive clinical care. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that only 50.6 percent of children with mental disorders had received treatment for their disorder within the past year.
As parents, how can we help our kids? Take a lesson from Fred Rogers: remember that feelings are mentionable and manageable. Find time to ask your children, “How are you?”—and then listen to what they have to say. With certain emotions, some kids can’t simply “shake it off.” Talking to someone with the right training and credentials, someone who knows how to listen, can help your child understand what they’re feeling. It can make a world of difference. Realize, too, that mentioning and managing feelings doesn’t mean your child needs medication or a prescription.
CHD is a great local resource regarding emotional wellness. As a major social service organization for our region, we offer extensive behavioral health programs, including services designed to identify and treat depression in children.
If your child needs need corrective lenses to see well, you take them to the optometrist. It’s not any different when it comes to mentioning and managing their feelings. Help is available—and CHD is ready to provide it. To find out more, call 1-844-CHD-HELP.
Ask your children how they’re feeling. You can begin the conversation with three words: “How are you?”
Kimberley A. Lee, VP Office of Advancement for CHD