x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Is my child suffering from depression?

A lack of knowledge about the signs and symptoms of depression and the absence of health-education programmes in schools means many children are not getting the help they need.

DUBAI // A lack of knowledge about the signs and symptoms of depression and the absence of health-education programmes in schools means many children are not getting the help they need.

Parents often misinterpret signs as normal teenage rebellious behaviour, said Dr Raymond Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist with the Human Relations Institute in Dubai.

"What we're looking at with adolescents is irritability and a general unhappiness," he said. "This is something that fools parents - that if their children have the energy to be irritable then they can't be depressed."

While depressive symptoms can be caused by external factors, they can also be the result of chemical reactions in the body.

"All the hormones in the body are in havoc during this time and the teenager can go through mood swings, like a pendulum," Dr Hamden said. "This affects their thinking process and can result in rebellious behaviour."

Dr Hamden said parents must raise such behaviour with a professional if it is continuous.

Signs to look out for are sudden withdrawal from social activities, a drop in grades, changes in sleeping patterns and a lack of interest in usual hobbies, said Dr Veena Luthra, a consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

It is the role of parents, teachers and paediatricians to identify children with issues and refer them to someone who can help.

The current approach can sometimes penalise a child instead of help them, Dr Luthra said.

"When the kid's grades are dropping, teachers are more punitive rather than getting to why the kid is getting lower grades," she said. "They think the kid is lazy or stupid and don't look at the emotional aspect of what may be going on."

Screening initiatives, similar to one conducted by Dubai Health Authority, could justify the need for school counsellors and psychological services, according to Dr Luthra.

She said that in some places, teachers saw problems and referred them to school counsellors, and psychologists were often attached to schools. This way, it was more difficult for problems to go unnoticed.

Seeking psychiatric help might not always be the solution, said Rima Sabban, an assistant sociology professor at Zayed University.

"Not every symptom requires a child to be taken to a psychiatrist," Dr Sabban said. "This could be problematic - not just on a cultural level, but children may think there's something wrong with them.

"It becomes an issue of abnormality versus normality."

It would be more beneficial to provide the support system on a school level involving the teacher and the counsellor, she said.

"But we need home-grown professionals and researchers. This is very important," Dr Sabban said. "Even if they are expatriates, they would understand the needs, problems and issues in this part of the world."

mismail@thenational.ae