Last week, we discussed a topic that I feel is a prevalent problem in our communities, and that is depression. Depression manifests itself in many different ways, and If we play our cards right, we can catch many cases before it’s too late.
Many of you emailed me (thank you) to remind me that we should discuss common symptoms of depression before we discuss solutions. I compiled a basic list of symptoms, but it’s certainly not all-inclusive. On the other hand, just because your child exhibits some of these symptoms, doesn’t mean that he/she is depressed. Like anything else in life, you need to make educated decisions based on knowing your child. If you need help with these decisions, ask your Rav or doctor.
Children have all types of personalities. If your child’s personality changes dramatically, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. For example, if your child suddenly becomes withdrawn, moody, or extremely irritable, that’s a clear signal that something is up. Physical symptoms of depression can be manifested by a change in appetite (either increased or decreased), sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, and physical complaints (such as stomach-aches, headaches, etc.), that don't respond to treatment. In all the above cases, you need to sit with your child and figure out what’s causing the change.
Some symptoms are a bit more serious. If your child has developed serious concentration issues out of nowhere, has feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or has mentioned death or suicide, you need to act immediately. You should call a mental health professional and get help making an informed decision as to the appropriate course of action.
The solution. I’m always shocked when people contact me expecting solutions to serious problems. When I get an email regarding a child not Davening well, having issues with homework, or even making trouble in Yeshiva, I can offer advice. It may work for some children, for others, not as much. Baruch Hashem, many people have used information from this blog/column to improve their parenting.
I bring this up, due to an email I received a few days ago. Rabbi Ross. Reading your article last week confirmed what I’ve been thinking for a long time. My fourteen-year-old son is very depressed. We have been giving him his own space, and for the past few months it’s just getting worse. He doesn’t join us for Shabbos meals, and my wife has to physically pull him out of bed for Yeshiva. Any ideas?
Sadly, this is not the only such correspondence that I’ve received. I would like to reiterate that if something is seriously wrong, or requires immediate assistance, an advice column is not the solution. There are many trained professionals that can help in these instances. If you need names, you can ask your Yeshiva, your Rav, and, if you’re too embarrassed, feel free to email me for a list of suggestions. However, don’t wait until it’s Chas V’Shalom too late!
There are a few things you can try to ensure that your children are more upbeat, and to prevent depression. Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, rather it includes ideas that have worked for many families.
Sunlight. Open the shades and use natural light as much as possible. Sunshine has a therapeutic effect, as does being outdoors.
Music. Try and keep fun and upbeat music playing in the house. We’re not talking about using headphones. You can buy a good sound bar for under $100. Obviously, your kids shouldn’t be listening to depressing or inappropriate music.
Compliment. Give meaningful and sincere compliments to your kids whenever possible.
Limit electronics. Although it seems like a perfect way for kids to relax, I’ve noticed that when children engage in too much electronics usage, they become moody. I’m sure someone must have done some sort of case study on this.
Reduce stress. We discussed in last week’s article that children have age-appropriate stress as well. Speak to your child to see if something in particular is stressing them out. As insignificant as it seems to you, if it’s stressing your child it should be dealt with.
Check for bullying. Many schools have a zero tolerance for bullying. Your child might not want to talk about it, but see if you can figure out what’s going on. Sometimes speaking to other parents can be a huge help.
Money. Although I’m working on a separate article regarding financial smarts for children, there is one thing worth mentioning. Don’t project your money issues onto your children. You can explain that you can’t afford something, but telling your children how much you’re struggling is counter-productive.
Last, but not least, smile. If parents walk around with a smile, the kids will pick it up. If you’re always stressed or annoyed, screaming or slamming things down, your children will turn out the same. As we’ve discussed, children are frequently like a mirror. A brutally honest mirror.
Again, there is no shame in asking for help. If you feel that you are out of answers, don’t ignore the issues as it will usually get worse. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to post them in the comments section on the blog.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.