Schools are reporting more and more children entering who seem to be unable to meet the basic demands of sitting, paying attention, and controlling themselves. More and more children are placed in special educational programs. The number of children on Ritalin is rising at an alarming rate.
No one knows why this is occurring. Some blame gaming, some blame divorce, some blame two-career families.
At the same time, the incidence of clinical depression among adults — including parents — is almost epidemic, and continues to rise. Today almost twenty percent of the population meet the criteria for some form of depression — and that does not mean people who are temporarily feeling the blues and will be better next week, but people who are having real difficulty functioning in life.
Count every fifth person you see on the street — that’s how many people in your community who may be suffering from depression. I think we need to understand the connection between adult depression and children’s behaviour.
The Connection between Childhood Problems and Parental Depression
Good child therapists know that often when a child is in trouble, parents are depressed. Though the parents often feel that the child’s behaviour is the source of their distress, in fact often the child is reacting to the parent’s depression.
I know of extreme cases where parents have “expelled” the troublesome child from the home (through private school, placement with relatives, or runaway) only to have the next child in age step into the troublemaking role. We often explain to parents that the child is really trying to get a rise out of them, to get them to be parents, to put their foot down, enforce rules, and pay attention. The parent may never have realized that, in reality, he or she is quite depressed. When we can treat the depression successfully, the parent has the energy to pay attention, to set limits, to be firm and consistent — and the child’s behaviour improves.
The Cycle of Depression
There is a great deal of research documenting that children of depressed parents are at high risk for depression themselves, as well as for substance abuse and antisocial activities. Many studies have found that depressed mothers have difficulty bonding with their infants; they are less sensitive to the baby’s needs and less consistent in their responses to the baby’s behaviour. The babies appear more unhappy and isolated than other children. They may be difficult to comfort, appear listless, and be difficult to feed and put to sleep.
When they reach the toddler stage, such children are often very hard to handle, defiant, negative, and refusing to accept parental authority. This, of course, reinforces the parents’ sense of failure. Father and mother’s parenting is likely to remain inconsistent, because nothing they do has any visible effect.
When the depressed parent isn’t able to get help, the outlook isn’t good for the child. He or she grows up with dangerous and destructive ideas about the self–that he’s unlovable, uncontrollable, and a general nuisance. He doesn’t know how to get attention from adults in positive ways, so gets labelled a troublemaker. He doesn’t know how to soothe himself, so is at risk for substance abuse. He doesn’t know he’s a worthwhile human being, so is at risk for depression. He hasn’t learned how to control his own behaviour, so he can’t fit into school or work.
Solutions for Depression
No one knows for sure why the incidence of adult depression keeps increasing. Many people don’t realize they have it.
If you have trouble sleeping and have other physical symptoms, feel anxious and overwhelmed, have lost ambition and hope, feel alone and alienated, are tormented by guilt or obsessional thoughts, and may even have thoughts of suicide. You just feel that life stinks and there’s nothing you can do about it. Are your children out of control, and you feel you don’t have what it takes to be a good parent? You might be suffering of Depression.
The tragic irony is that adult depression is rather easily treated – certainly at much less social cost than schools’ attempts to teach children self-control. New antidepressant medications and focused psychotherapy can reliably and efficiently help 80 to 90 percent of depressed patients; and the earlier you can catch it, the better the chances of success.
If your children are in trouble, maybe you should be evaluated for depression. Speak to your health practitioner and get a referral to see a counsellor or if you are worried about your child contact the School Based support team who will assist with counselling or a referral.
Your cloud can have a silver lining, faster than you think!