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Depression and kids -- they're not alone

Hot Stuff to Help Kids Cheer Up

Adolescents struggling with depression are not alone -- they just don't know it. Jerry Wilde's book, Hot Stuff to Help Kids Cheer Up (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2007), should help change this.

"Kids tend to be so egocentric that they often feel alone when in fact, they are surrounded by adolescents struggling with the same ideas," said Wilde, associate professor of educational psychology at Indiana University East. "Nearly 10 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major period of depression this past year. That's about 2.2 million in that age group."

Hot Stuff takes a conversational approach to a serious issue and is designed to be read by the kids, similar to Wilde's books about anger management and stress management. In Hot Stuff, adolescents learn about the difference between sadness and depression. Sadness, says Wilde, typically is a reaction to loss, disappointment or significant change, such as natural disasters and world events, and can last for days or a few weeks. Depression is longer lasting and more severe.

"Beyond length, I tend to look for the presence of other indicators, such as sleep disruption and the failure to enjoy previous activities," said Wilde. "But in the end, this tends to be a judgment call, which is why I recommend that if a parent is concerned, see a professional."

The book also helps them see the difference between true and false beliefs that could be bringing them down and helps them identify "alligator thoughts," thoughts lurking just below the surface that are the real culprits of the sad feelings.

The book includes interactive activities, such as personal quizzes. Wilde offers the following suggestions to adolescents and their families:

  • Pay attention to your children. Symptoms of depression include anger, lack of motivation, withdrawal from friends, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruptions, fatigue and more trouble getting moving in the morning.
  • Get out and have some fun. People suffering from depression try to withdraw themselves from life, so kids should try to have some fun doing things that involve other people, and parents should try to help them become actively engaged. This could include clubs or sports at school -- or attending matches to cheer on your school's team. Some kids have no interest in after school activities, however, so Wilde suggests finding out what the kids are passionate about and helping them become more engaged in this activity. If a child enjoys skateboarding, for example, but no skateboard parks are nearby, make time to take the child to the one even though it is farther away. Try to limit activities that involve more solitude, such as video games and time online.
  • Bite your tongue. Rather than accepting that depression is a medical condition, many people wrongly think people who are depressed should just cheer up and find the bright side of life, Wilde said. "Nobody would tell a diabetic to just get over it," he said.
  • Exercise. Increasing evidence has shown that exercise is an effective part of treatment for depression. Develop a family plan to ensure everyone is getting the right amount of exercise to stay healthy -- mentally and physically.