Thanks to blackdoctor.org for featuring my comments in this recent article.
Click here for the official article, or read below. Enjoy!
Depression in Black Children: What Does It Look Like?
What could a child possibly be depressed about? They don’t have bills or responsibilities, so what is there to really be sad about? Unfortunately, that is the misguided thinking in a lot of our homes. While a concerted effort to address mental health needs in the Black community is growing. There’s still a great need to address our little Black boys and girls who are suffering in the dark.
Childhood depression is often overlooked because kids, at the time, don’t have the language or perspective to understand what they’re feeling. Kids like Rhylan Thai Hagan and Stormiyah Denson-Jackson left this world without an explanation of their unspoken pain.
Across the nation suicides amongst Black children under 18 are up 71 percent in the past decade. Researchers are perplexed as to the reason why, but many indicate that factors such as perceived racism might explain the rise. Rheeda Walker, a professor at the University of Houston, believes that the perception that suicide isn’t a Black thing can also explain why it’s hard to detect the warning signs
“If there is a belief that black children do not kill themselves, there’s no reason to use tools to talk about suicide prevention,” she said.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as “a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.”
Depression is not to be confused with anxiety. People suffering from depression often have delayed or slower reactions. While people with anxiety are often hyper and have racing thoughts. Oftentimes the two get intertwined because of the similarity in symptoms.
If you feel that your child suffers from either you’re strongly encouraged to see a doctor or therapist.
Dr. C. Nicole Swiner and therapist Dr. Alisha Powell provide our readers with an in-depth look at childhood depression in the Black community.
BlackDoctor: How does childhood depression differ from adult depression?
Dr. Swiner: I believe many symptoms and factors may be similar, however, more symptoms are more related to decreased attention, increased irritability and agitation and acting out than low mood and sadness.
Dr. Powell: Child depression looks different from adult depression because children may not be able to tell you what’s wrong. They may become more isolated and less social with their peers.
BlackDoctor: What factors lead to childhood depression?
Dr. Swiner: Genetics, hormonal changes, emotional trauma, abuse or increased stress are factors that contribute to childhood depression.
Dr. Powell: Childhood depression can stem from stressors at home or school. It can also be caused by unhealthy interpersonal relationships or it can be a chemical imbalance in the brain.
BlackDoctor: How can you support your child through depression?
Dr. Swiner: Open communication, counseling, and therapy. Last resort would be medications, natural and pharmaceutical, with the help of physicians.
Dr. Powell: You can support your child with depression by not attempting to fix it on your own. Don’t shame them because of how they feel or tell them to snap out of it. Take them to talk to a licensed mental health professional and be open to different treatment options.
BlackDoctor: Is medicine always necessary?
Dr. Swiner: As a last resort and with the help of a physician, possibly.
Dr. Powell: Medication isn’t always necessary. However, in cases where there’s no identified stressor or trigger, medication can help with the chemical imbalance in the brain. Medication can also be helpful if there is a dramatic decrease in functioning—like if your child is not sleeping or eating and has started to self-harm.
Listen to the recommendations of mental health providers on whether or not medication is a good option for your child.
BlackDoctor: What are free or cost-effective ways to support your child’s mental health needs?
Dr. Swiner: Encouraging exercise, rest, hobbies, journaling, counseling with in-school therapists and ministers through a church.
Dr. Powell: Talk to your child’s school counselor about low-cost counseling clinics in the community and other resources. Call your insurance company and find out what behavioral health benefits are available. Many times, counseling graduate programs offer low-cost counseling as their students work with people in the community in order to get the hours that they need to graduate.
I also want to add: Depression should be taken seriously—especially in Black kids. Keep the lines of communication open but also understand that your child may also need to speak to someone else that isn’t you. Support your child by letting them know that there isn’t anything wrong with seeking help.
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