“Exams are near and I am scared… not from exam pressure but from your expectations, Mom. I know you really care about my studies and get angry at me for not studying but do you know I try really hard.”
“Mom dad, you look so stressed during my exams that it makes me nervous.”
“You have become a stranger to me during exam time. I get a rumbling feeling in my tummy like I am going to faint.”
“I constantly feel so frustrated. I get it from school and my classes and then from you.”
Mirinda recently released a TVC showing teenagers dealing with exam stress writing heartfelt letters to their parents – emotions that teens normally don’t express. And if you ask why this is relevant, it is because according to National Crime Records Bureau – Accidental Deaths and suicides in India 2015, exam pressure and pressure to perform is one of the leading causes of depression and suicidal tendencies among teenagers.
We have always been associating depression and stress with adults, never with kids. But it’s time we turn our attention towards them because there are alarming statistics of children succumbing to depression. Children as young as six are getting stressed and depressed and it’s time parents face the bitter truth.
Some may argue that children cannot suffer from depression since they don’t have adult-like pressures and problems. But do not forget that children have their own set of problems that can trigger depression- and exam pressure is just one of the many reasons.
Do not dismiss everything as mood swings or tantrums, as you could be dealing with something darker and deeper. Kavita Mungi, a renowned psychologist and career counselor agrees, “Most parents normally do not associate depression with kids expecting the problems to go away as they grow up. Parents attribute such behavior to some temporary acts such as lack of sleep or illness. It therefore goes unnoticed and untreated. Sometimes it is too late for help, leading to suicidal tendencies.”
Why are kids depressed?
Academic pressure is among the leading cause of depression in youngsters, closely followed by the struggle of living up to high parental expectations. Poor peer relationships also affect mental health and so does turbulent family life, which can make the child sad and lonely. Family history of depression could also be responsible.
This is where it gets absolutely important to establish self worth. Lack of it can lead to depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression
If the child is unusually sad, lonely and feeling hopeless.
He/she may be irritable and angry all the time.
Lack of sleep and fatigue are other symptoms to watch out for.
Isolating himself/herself socially.
Physical complaints of body illness regularly with no apparent reason.
Low on energy and lack of interest in any activities.
May appear cranky, grouchy, moody.
Argumentative with temper tantrums.
What parents can do
Parents need to be hands on to note unusual changes in behavior of their kids. They need to be aware of the possibilities that can lead to depression. Dr Mukta Vasal, chief child and adolescent psychologist at Mom’s Belief tells, “Every kid undergoes conflict. For something as simple as the teacher not giving stars in the notebook for a preschooler to a 10-year-old worrying about not being popular among peers or a teenager suffering from complex about low grades or heartbreak.” While some kids are able to offload their daily conflicts, others are unable to cope with them. “When some kids are not able to do that, they suffer silently. It leads to stress. Conflicts could be simple and complex both. It is extremely important to resolve conflicts on a daily basis so they do not get turned into stress, which then later can be manifested into depression,” she adds.
Parents need to give quality time to their kids. Kavita recommends parents to keep the lines of communication open so the child can always approach them with any issue. Parents need to help children develop hobbies and sporting activities to build their strength physically and maintain healthy relationships with peers.
Children of depressed parents are three times more likely to show signs of a major depressive disorder than others. There is a definite genetic disposition towards this disorder. So if parents are aware, they can take steps and seek help from a professional to deal with the issue.
It gets difficult for a small child to express what he is feeling. “We keep pressing on quality time with kids but it’s quantity time that is equally important. Among younger kids, parents need to understand that the child is not very articulate in expressing his thoughts, but if he resists going to school or you see any behavioural issues, they should not be treated casually. Parents can adopt role play, show emotion cards, or tell social stories. Parents should help the child identify his feelings to understand the deep seated issue. Once the problem is identified, help them with a solution. Many a times parents will have to connect the dots and help the child resolve the problem. This practice will help greatly in later years when the child would have developed self worth,” suggests Dr Mukta. Self worth is any day more important than confidence. You may ask what the difference is – a confident child may be able to speak in front of 200 people but may not be happy from within, while a child with high self worth may not be able to speak in front of 200 people but would be happy in life.
In the end, if every child gets ample support from his family on a daily basis, issues won’t become grave and lead to depression. Talk to them… every single day.