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What to Do When Your Child Receives a Depression or Anxiety Diagnosis

What to Do When Your Child Receives a Depression or Anxiety Diagnosis

Children wearing masks looking out the window appearing depressed due to COVID.The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone – and our children are likely struggling with their emotions.

In its 2021: The State of Mental Health in America report, Mental Health America (MHA) shared that the number of youths experiencing at least one major depressive episode (MDE) increased by 206,000 compared to the previous year’s dataset. This represents 13.84% of youth (age 12-17) suffering from at least one MDE in the past year.

The report found of those youth with depression, few children are receiving the care and treatment they need. In fact, 60% of youth with depression don’t receive any mental health treatment. Of those youth with severe depression who receive some treatment, only 27% receive consistent care.

What Does a Diagnosis of Depression or Anxiety Mean?

After your child has been diagnosed, their doctor may create a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist. Sticking to a treatment plan is very important for children. Depression and anxiety are serious illnesses, and left untreated can have dire, life-threatening consequences.

“If depressed teens refuse treatment, it may be necessary for family members or other concerned adults to seek professional advice,” according to an article on the MHA website. “Therapy can help teens understand why they are depressed and learn how to cope with stressful situations… Medications that can be prescribed by a psychiatrist may be necessary to help teens feel better.”

Mother consoling a child who appears sad, perhaps considering a treatment plan for treating the child’s depression.

In an article on Psycom.net, Katie Hurley, LCSW, suggests that parents can support medical treatment through the following:

  1. “Education.” You and your child should consider conducting research into understanding what causes depression and/or anxiety, and how these conditions are treated. The more you know about the condition, the more likely it will “normalize” the illness for your child. As Hurley writes, educating your child about the diagnosis or condition can “reduce self-blame.”
  2. “Psychotherapy.” There are many different kinds of therapy available for children; according to the MHA article, “depending on the situation, treatment may consist of individual, group or family counseling.” For younger children, play therapy could be a meaningful option; for older kids and teens, talk therapy may be more effective. Additionally, it is important to realize that you might not find the right match with a therapist on the first try. It can help to interview more than one therapist before deciding on the right one for your child.
  3. “Medication.” Medication, often in combination with talk therapy, may help your child feel better.
  4. “Hospitalization.” Hospitalization may not be part of all treatment plans, but it may help those children with severe cases.

Caregivers should expect results from depression and anxiety treatment to take time. “No two kids are the same,” Hurley writes in the Psycom article, “and it’s important to remain patient with the process to help your child feel safe.”

Further, the MHA article suggests that adolescents “may need encouragement from their friends and support from concerned adults to seek help and follow treatment recommendations.”

Coping Skills for Depression and Anxiety

Image of child’s hands coloring a heart showing success of treatment for depression.

As parents and caregivers, we may be concerned about how our children’s depression or anxiety affect them. We can work in conjunction with medical professionals, by teaching them ways they can cope with their feelings.

An article in Healthline offers tips on ways to support your child, some of which include:

  1. Cope Together: Create a family plan to deal with the stress related to the diagnosis. This will help you and your child not to feel alone as they go through recovery.
  2. Be Mindful: Use mindfulness techniques. Techniques, such as deep breathing, may help calm your child.
  3. Discover and Brainstorm Calming Activities: As a parent, you can pay attention to activities that calm your child, whether it is playing with Legos, journaling, drawing, or exercising. Work with your child to brainstorm a list, which you can remind them to look to when they are feeling stressed.
  4. Talk and Listen: Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Then listen to what they say and let them know you hear them. Even if what they say sounds silly to you, it is important to listen, so they can gain clarity and feel heard.
  5. Model Healthy Living: Physical and mental health are closely connected, so encouraging your child to eat well, exercise regularly, and sleep long enough each night can help manage symptoms.

Resources for Parents of Children and Teens with Depression and Anxiety Diagnoses

The American Academy of Child and Adult Psychiatry (AACAP) has many resources for parents of depressed children. The organization has fact sheets, books, apps, videos, and websites dedicated to helping someone suffering from depression or anxiety. Some resources are geared to parents, others to kids. On the AACAP website, it addresses questions about depression, including how talk therapy and medication can help your child.

“When prescribed and monitored carefully, medication can be a safe and appropriate intervention for children and adolescents with depression,” according to the AACAP website. “However, medication is most effective when used as a component of a comprehensive treatment plan, individualized to the needs of the child and family.”

The GeneSight test may also be a valuable tool. Results from the test can inform your doctor about genes that may impact how your child metabolizes or responds to certain commonly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD and other psychiatric conditions. The GeneSight doctor discussion guide can help you start a conversation with your healthcare provider about the test.

For more information about depression in adolescents and teens, please read these blog posts:

Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.

If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.