Behavioral changes in children and teens can be difficult to interpret

Anxiety and depression are two illnesses that co-exist on the same plane, often acting like two children on a teeter-totter.  The incidence of anxiety symptoms in someone diagnosed with depression is over 90% and the incidence of depressive symptoms in someone diagnosed with an anxiety disorder is over 60%.  Depression, technically titled Major Depressive Disorder, occurs in of 3%-17% of people and is characterized by depressed mood and/or loss of interest or diminished pleasure in hobbies and activities.  Depression is the second leading cause of disability worldwide and the leading cause of disability in adolescents aged 10-19 years-of-age.

Depressive symptoms can impair a person’s ability to perform at work or school,  fulfill family and personal responsibilities and enjoy activities like sports.  Lost work or school productivity evident by absenteeism as well as presenteeism (reduced performance while at school or work) are leading contributors to impairment in functioning and worsen with increasing severity of depression.

Many adults remain untreated (or undertreated) but even more children/teens do not get the medical care they need due to difficulty recognizing the symptoms of anxiety and depression, a lack of access to care or due to antiquated personal beliefs these symptoms are just a natural part of growing up.

Depressed mood and decreased interest/pleasure in activities can be harder to identify in a child or adolescent population.  Adults are typically better at describing their feelings.  Children tend to express their feelings as behavioral changes including irritability and withdrawal.  Teens, as they mature and become more independent, will exhibit behavioral changes such as withdrawal from family and old friends, diminished academic achievement, irritability, sleep disturbance, and most concerning, the use of drugs and alcohol.

Self-medication with drugs or alcohol, in addition to being destructive behavior, masks the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety from family, friends, and clinicians, as well as leading to a path of addiction, financial hardship, legal problems and even suicide while under the influence.

There are options for patients and families.  Learn as much as you can by reading, asking your physician questions, and talking to your child or family member.  Do not avoid, do not assume and do not ignore the warning signs. While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes active villagers to keep them healthy!