Depression in Australian children is becoming an increasingly pressing problem. In the past 20 years, depressive disorders in children have increased with the rate of 20% per year. In the age group of 4-17, 14% of Australian children and adolescents suffer from depression according to a survey by the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Studies have shown that childhood depression is one of the highest ranking death causes in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Recurrence rates increase in patients who have suffered from depression in the past. In children and young adults, suffering one or more depression episodes increases the risk of Bipolar disorder and depressive disorders after 1 – 3 years.

Factors contributing to childhood depression

One of the most important factors behind the increasing rates of child depression is abuse. Physical, verbal and emotional abuse all degrade the victim leading to feelings of worthlessness, and low self-esteem, and this in turn leads to depression. The depressive disorders arising from abuse are difficult to treat because they become deeply rooted in the victims’ sense of identity.

Parent behaviour can trigger child depression for other reasons beside abuse. Parents’ over protectiveness have been linked to depression development in children. Too much control or too little care can also contribute to child depression. These reasons are even more common than abuse as everyday stresses on parents can affect the way they treat their children transmitting that stress through high levels of control, or on the opposite side, lack of care.

Stress during pregnancy can also contribute to the child’s tendency to develop depression.

Diagnosis: What are the depression statistics in Australia?

Depression is considered one of the chronic conditions that are commonly diagnosed at General Practitioners’ consultations. According to the 11th biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, depression accounts for 2.5 % of all the General Practitioners’ consultations.

About 100,000 cases of child and adolescent depression have been diagnosed in Australia in 2003 alone. The high number of cases can be contributed to improved health care systems that made diagnosing new cases easier through routine health care checks and new diagnostic criteria.

Effective treatment for childhood depression

The effectiveness of usual depression treatment methods is compromised when treating children. Many studies have shown that antidepressants are ineffective in the treatment of those less than 18 years of age.

A study conducted by and published in the British Medical Journal showed that not only are antidepressants ineffective in the treatment of child depression, their use in this particular age group can cause suicide.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come to a similar conclusion stating that the use of antidepressants by children under 18 can cause suicide and/or suicide ideation. These findings are important given the fact that 20,000 antidepressant prescriptions have been issued for those under 19 in Australia in 2003 alone.

Alternative treatment approaches are recommended for overcoming depression in children for the above reasons. Single modality psychotherapy protocols are one method. They include either cognitive behavioural therapy or interpersonal therapy. Those treatment approaches can be used alone or in combination with medication.

Combining both approaches in child depression treatment can help decrease the antidepressant doses and side effects leading to better results. The decision to use one or more treatment techniques is made on an individual basis by a psychiatrist or a G.P. alongside psychotherapy or psychology support.

What’s your experience of childhood depression and what do you think can be done to reduce it? Leave your comments in the box below.

Related Articles:

How to Recognise and Treat Depression

Strategies for Overcoming Depression

Bipolar Disorder: A Fact Sheet

How to Recognise Postnatal Depression

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, Australia Counselling has counsellors who specialse in the treatment of depression in locations such as Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and rural areas of Australia. Visit our depression area of practice page to find a depression counsellor or psychologist near you.