Bullying is perhaps one of the most worrying concerns a parent can have these days. Obviously, no one wants to see their child in pain. More concerning however, is the risk of Bullying and Reactive Depression associated with children who are or have been bullied.
Reactive depression is, essentially, a reaction to stress. It is commonly associated with the death of a loved one, divorce or another traumatic event, such as the loss of a home due to fire. Reactive depression in children is perhaps most concerning because they lack the coping skills of adults. Often, a period of reactive depression caused by bullying becomes clinical depression, which can be much more difficult to treat.
Symptoms of Bullying and Reactive Depression in Children and Adolescents
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, somewhere around 11 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 13 and 18 have been affected by depressive disorders at some time in their lives. Up to 3.3 percent suffer from serious, debilitating depression.
How can you tell whether your child is just going through a normal, moody adolescent phase or suffering from reactive depression? The answer isn’t exactly simple. Children and adolescents change so often and some of the symptoms that can be associated with depression can be mistaken for teen angst.
While many children will display similar symptoms as an adult with depressive disorder, many times, children also display masked behaviors. This means that normal symptoms, such as sadness and hopelessness present as anger or rage.
The current theory that chemical imbalance in the brain is the cause of depression is widely accepted. When a child is bullied, his brain is consistently flooded with stress reaction chemicals, which, over time can cause a chronic imbalance of other chemicals. To put is quite simply, without a complicated neurological illustration this happens because when the brain is regularly flooded with certain chemicals it compensates by releasing or shutting down the production and reuptake of certain other chemicals. This reaction is maintained at all times, not just during a stress response. A chronic imbalance can difficult, if not impossible to treat without medication.
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Fortunately, once the stressors that are causing a period of reactive depression are identified, the condition can be treated relatively easily with individual or group counseling and psychotherapy. So, how do you know if your child is suffering from this condition? The symptoms listed below are associated with reactive depression in children and adolescents. While they can also be associated with normal childhood development, when they last longer than a few weeks, or heavily interfere with daily activities, they are cause for concern.
- Increased sensitivity to rejection,
- Anger, irritability and mood swings,
- sleep pattern changes – sleeping too much or not enough,
- Reduced ability to function socially, or in school,
- Social withdrawal from friends and family members,
- Suicidal ideation or attempts,
- Decreased performance in school, bad grades,
- Withdrawal from actives once enjoyed,
- persistent feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness,
More on Bullying and Reactive Depression below…
You may be wondering how to differentiate a depressed teen from every other moody teen in existence based of the symptoms above. However, consider that children and teens often display contradictory symptoms. They may continue to perform very well in certain structured environments, such as class, but be unable to perform in other social or unstructured environments. Also, the symptoms of reactive depression are often manifested physically with:
- significant, sudden weight loss or gain,
- persistent, vague complains of pain, such as stomach aches or headaches that do not respond to treatment,
- self-destructive behaviors, such as drug or alcohol abuse,
- self-mutilation, referred to as “cutting” when a child physically makes cuts in the skin,
The importance of prompt treatment is essential for these children and teens. Not only to allow them heal, but also to prevent what could become a life-long, debilitating battle with clinical depression. To highlight the importance of seeking immediate treatment, consider the following facts published by the NIMH and CDC, or Center for Disease Control:
- Suicide was the third leading cause of death the 10 – 24 year old age group in 2007. Of every 100,000 deaths, 0.9 children from 10 to14-years old were from suicide. That percentage rose significantly within the 15-19 year old age bracket, where 6.9 deaths out of 100,000 were caused by suicide.
- One national survey of high school students showed that 16 percent of students in grades 9-12 had considered suicide, with 13 percent having made a plan, and 8 percent actually making an attempt to end their own life.