One of the most compelling speeches at the Oscars this year was delivered by Graham Moore, winner of Best Adapted Screenplay for the film The Imitation Game. You may already have seen or read his words, which can be found here. In front of a worldwide audience of millions, he brought up the important issue of depression, which anywhere from 2%-8% of young people experience. He said:
In this brief time here, I want to say this: “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do.”
Bravo, Mr. Moore, for speaking for so many who suffer with depression and giving hope to a worldwide audience that it can get better.
Being a kid is hard. Mr. Moore’s experience is not unusual, but, as he points out, it doesn’t always feel that way. Certain combinations of genetics and temperament combined with environmental factors put children at risk for depression. For example, the risk increases 2-4 fold for girls after puberty. Many adolescents even have subclinical depression, meaning that while they would not be officially diagnosed, they still experience significant or persistent symptoms.
The disorder involves at least two weeks of persistent depressed/irritable mood and loss of interest, as well as a change in appetite and sleep, decreased energy and motivation, increased guilt feelings, decreased concentration, and suicidal thoughts. Children in particular may exhibit irritability and anger or tantrums as well as physical symptoms.
Depression can be deadly. For instance, Major Depressive Disorder has a high recurrence rate, and 60% of children who suffer from it experience suicidal thoughts. Many have attempted suicide.
One of the more astute reactions to Robin Williams’ death last summer came from those who did not share the news by saying he died of suicide. They said, rather, that he died of depression. This is not a spin doctor’s take; in fact, it is a far more truthful explanation.
What Mr. Moore and many of us who treat people with depression want is to bring this issue to light, and to be honest to each other about how prevalent depression is. Fortunately, there are also effective treatments.
First, however, we as parents or adults need to recognize the red flags and act on them. These include:
- Sadness, agitation, restlessness, anger or severe mood changes; especially when they persist more than 6 months;
- Weight loss or gain;
- Fatigue and loss of energy;
- Sleep problems;
- Withdrawal and loss of interest;
- Drop in grades and academic performance, and
- Legal problems.
Talking to children about depression can be difficult and effective treatment often takes some time. However, it is of the utmost importance that we do so. One key step is letting go of any stigma attached to this problem and consciously choosing to help our children learn strategies to cope with depression. If we do so, we may be giving them the most important gift of all.