“Don’t be a baby” and “It’s not so bad” are sentences that people with depression unfortunately still have to hear far too often. Especially in children and young people, signs of depression are often overlooked or dismissed as adolescent mood swings: Depression has nothing to do with this, because it only happens to adults. However, this assumption is simply wrong.
In our hybrid workshop series Out of the rain, a combination of online and face-to-face events, which is complemented by a homepage of the same name with many tips and help offers, we dispel these false assumptions. Dr. Günter Toth, graduate psychologist and head of the Bavarian Institute for Prevention, Youth Protection and Gambling supports us with his professional expertise.
One of these hybrid events took place on 22 November at Wir sind Paten Saarbrücken in cooperation with Die jungen Denker e.V.
After a short introduction, Dr. Toth quickly identified the link between an increase in depression and the restrictions of the Covid pandemic: “We have to limit ourselves through the politically imposed measures. Limits that show us that this is no longer possible any more. Feeling alone is one aspect of the illness. One no longer feels like they belong. The possible loneliness caused by the corona crisis contributes to the development of depressive phases and so we must find solutions together to break the danger of loneliness”. Dr. Toth mentioned video chats with friends and game nights in the family as measures against loneliness: “Having fun and laughing together is important to counteract the dark moments.
The figures support Dr. Toth’s assessment: Before the corona crisis, an estimated 10% of all adults suffered from forms of depression. For children, the figure was as high as 16%. The limitations associated with corona have led to a fivefold increase in symptoms.
Sentences like: “Dad, I don’t feel like doing anything today. I do not want to do anything today. I’m staying home” can be important indicators of incipient depression in children and young people. Physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches are also among the signs of depression. Of course, not every feeling of listlessness in teenagers is a depression, but Dr. Toth pointed out that parents should observe their child if such a phase lasts for weeks. A depression can be like a swamp or a snail shell: The more it progresses, the more you lose yourself in sadness and the harder it becomes to get out of it all. So, this means: Act early!
Dr. Toth not only drew attention to the symptoms and triggers, he also answered the participants’ questions in detail and pointed out ways to help those affected get out of their shell. One of the first steps is to actively notice the positive things that we encounter in everyday life. If our thoughts are focused all day long on negative and distressing things, it is not so easy to answer the question “What did I enjoy today? Even people who are not suffering from depression should ask themselves this question every day, Dr. Toth stressed, because he sees so many grumpy and introverted faces every day.
One important question that was asked was: “What do I do if I, as a parent, cannot cannot approach my child on this issue or have concerns that he or she will withdraw even further? Dr. Tooth’s answer gave the parents a starting point: “If you feel that you can’ t talk to your child about this issue, ask a person who has a very good relationship with your child. Whether it is the aunt, the grandfather or a close friend of the family doesn’t matter for the time being. The important thing is that your child trusts this person and can speak openly with him or her.”
Still, no matter how you approach the matter, it is important to take depression seriously and seek professional help, if necessary. Do not downplay the feelings of the person affected, but be there to support them and help when help is needed or requested.
We are always concerned about the health of our children. We stick plasters, make them tea and tuck them in. So, why not take care of the mental health of our children as well? It is at least as important!