Of all the potential illnesses, deformities, or complications that you worry your child will encounter from the moment you find out that you are pregnant, Major Depressive Disorder is usually not one that crosses your mind. You read-up on and are well informed by your doctors of potential postpartum depression for mothers. But no one ever mentions that children, even at very young ages, can suffer from depression.
When the nurse or midwife presents your seemingly healthy baby to you, you check out their 10 little fingers and toes, kiss their head, and snuggle them close. You go on to celebrate each milestone they reach as a baby, a toddler, and a small child. Together, you experience the highs and lows of growing up – those so called “growing pains” we all endure.
Then suddenly, at the age of 10 or shortly thereafter, your perfect child attempts to commit suicide. You are blindsided. People often say, “How did the parents not know?” and “I would have known if it was my kid.”
The truth is, yes, parents do know when their child is different, and yes, they do take it seriously and try everything in their power to help them – to provide them peace, comfort, and happiness at all costs. In fact, many times the whole family participates in receiving therapy. Literally no stone goes left unturned to try to get to the bottom of why their perfect precious child struggles socially and emotionally.
It is almost more common now for children to suffer from anxiety, depression, ADHD, or some variation of autism spectrum disorder than any other childhood illness. The reasons for the drastic rise in social and emotional disorders are unclear. Some studies suggest the increased use of mobile electronic devices. Kids are exposed to social media, the internet, video games, etc. at much younger ages and use them for extended periods of time.
Other studies suggest genetic components of these disorders. Children with parents who suffer from depression, addictions, or anxiety are likely predisposed to develop similar tendencies at some point during their life.
There is also the school of thought that these kids are extraordinary or gifted. They are so intellectually gifted that their intelligence is beyond comprehension for a typical human brain.
Regardless of the underlying groundwork, these kids all tend to be bullied by peers, misunderstood by adults, and categorized by the established, old-fashioned school system as defiant, bad kids. For many parents with gifted kids, these events are the catalyst for years of struggle, anxiety, and depression.
I am speaking from personal experience. I am a scientist, a teacher, and most importantly, a mom. My son was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at the age of eight. He frequently referred to himself as stupid, a worthless kid, having no friends, and felt that he didn’t deserve to live.
By the age of 10, he had attempted suicide twice, even though we were all in weekly therapy, working with teachers to provide extra assistance at school, talking to his peer’s parents to keep him involved in play dates, talking to coaches to keep him involved in sports, and limiting screen time as suggested by doctors.
I hate to say none of that mattered. Maybe it did to some extent. But when your child is so depressed that they are determined to end their life, you spend countless hours racking your brain trying to figure out what you missed. What else could you, his mom, have done to make a difference?
There is nothing that makes you feel more lonely, scared, and insignificant than your child suffering, especially from an illness or disorder that you can’t see and that most people have no level of understanding.
As a close to our story, we were fortunate and did catch my son in time to save his life. He spent six weeks in a children’s hospital. He now finally understands, or is at least beginning to understand, his feelings are not his fault and that they are not permanent. He engages in intense therapy, and we have found a medication (at a low dose) that helps him control his anxieties.
We work hard every day as a family to express our feelings, both happy and sad ones, in the most positive ways possible. Most importantly, we continue to remind ourselves that we do the best we can until we know better.
And then we do better.