Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 and the third leading cause of death for teenagers ages 15 to 19. Approximately 22 percent of depressed children will attempt suicide. If your child is, or may be depressed, please take it seriously.
It is important that you get your child professional help if she seems depressed; if your child mentions suicide, get help immediately.
Martin Seligman, PhD, author of Learned Optimism, recommends cognitive therapy for adults and children who suffer from depression. Cognitive therapy involves helping your child to see adversity in a new, healthier way.
For instance, a child who is the victim of bullying, and who is suffering from depression as a result, may turn on herself becoming her own worst enemy. She may be telling herself that the bullying is her fault, that she deserves it, that it will never stop and that it will ruin her entire life. She looks at the world through a crazy lens that makes her feel that she is flawed, that this pervades her entire life and that it will always be this way.
The "It gets better" campaign to help bullied LGBT kids cope is right on target. It attacks the depressed teen's world view that misery will never end. The message is apt whether or not your depressed child is LBGT or not.
You can help, too.
A key message is that whatever adversity your child is facing is not permanent. You also need to help your child see that her problems are not due to any inherent personal deficiency. For instance, if she's not doing well in school reassure her by helping her see her capacity to do well. It may help to identify the choices she's made that hurt her academic performance. She can make new choices; she can change behavior. Her fear may be that she's "stupid" and you can't change "stupid".
You also need to help her see that her problems are not pervasive. A bad score in math doesn't mean her life is falling apart. She can still get on track for college; all of the world's possibilities remain open to her. She still has a family who loves her no matter what adversity she faces. Help her see the limits to the impacts.
Some of this advice may seem to run counter to your intuition. Optimistic kids -and most kids are - bounce back from adversity and accept the importance to get good grades or excel at sports for the sake of college admissions as a challenge and see each new test as a fresh opportunity to make an impression. Depressed kids are thinking differently; every adversity is the end of the world, and life is hopeless. You need to help your children see that they are not flawed individuals, that adversity has limits, and it won't last forever.
Seligman's book offers an entire chapter with practical advice to help you teach your children to overcome depression. The book also includes an assessment that can help you determine whether your child is susceptible to depression.