Dear Abby | Online guide helps parents recognize child depression

Dear Abby: Seeing a child you love struggle with depression is such a helpless feeling. Parents wonder how to talk to them as they withdraw from the people and activities that used to bring them joy. You just want them to feel better again.

Many times, parents tell themselves it’s just a phase their child will grow out of, but one in five teens is affected by depression. It’s important for parents to know that children even younger can become depressed, and that girls are twice as likely as boys to experience it. Depressed kids are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs and are at greater risk for attempting suicide.

To help concerned parents reach out to their hurting children, USA.gov has created the free online-only Kids and Depression guide at www.USA.gov/features/kids-and-depression. The guide’s sound, compassionate advice helps parents, grandparents and teachers recognize symptoms and risk factors in young people. It explains treatment options, including counseling and medication. And it also includes age-appropriate information about depression that parents can share with their children, elementary age through college.

Abby, thank you for the love you show your readers, and for sharing this potentially lifesaving guide with them. – Nancy Tyler, Senior Editor, USA.gov

Dear Nancy: You’re welcome. I’m glad you wrote because I receive many letters from worried parents and depressed young people. I know the online guide will provide important information they will find useful.

Risk factors for depression in young people include stressful life events, such as a family member’s divorce or death, bullying, trouble with school or friends, low self-esteem, or a disability or chronic illness. Symptoms of depression that last two weeks or more are significant. They may include sensitivity to criticism and outbursts of anger, sadness, headaches or stomachaches, changes in sleep or eating habits, lower grades and withdrawal from people and activities.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3 million kids aged 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. Depression can be a significant factor in suicide attempts, and the guide provides information to help parents recognize the warning signs of suicidal thoughts in their children.