RIP Robin Williams and Attention to Depression

With the recent suicidal death of the talented Robin Williams, (love him or hate him, he’s talented) talks of mental illness spill from every news station, radio show, tabloid magazine, and hashtags on twitter. Rumors, possibly truths, are using words like depression, addiction, suicide, and mental illness. Such discussions on mainstream media are hot topic until the latest sweep of something better breaks the headlines tomorrow morning.

After a discussion with a parent today about my client (her child) being admitted inpatient for thoughts of suicide, and recent media hype about depression, I began to question whether adults are fully informed on recognizing such symptoms in our young people.

But, depression is depression, right? Not exactly, and certainly depression differs when comparing adults to child and adolescents.

So what should we look for?

Look for time. We’ve all experience feeling “depressed,” and that is understandable; but, when those feelings last more than two weeks, become concerned.

It’s not just sadness. Adolescents and children experience “depression” differently, and it can be perceived as irritability, anger and/or moodiness, by adults, parents, and teachers, even peers. Be aware of what is normal, and notice if the child has particular and ongoing irritability.

Big changes. Depression changes the way a person feels and thinks, which influences the way he/she behaves. Adolescents and teenagers are no different. Watch for those changes in behavior. Keep an eye for grades dropping, more trouble at school, changes in eating habits (eating more or eating less). Look for significant changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping more and having difficulty sleeping. Most adolescents and teens are social creatures; so when they withdraw from friends and family (more than the usual not wanting to hang with mom or dad), or take notice.

The same symptoms. Not all depression symptoms are different between adults and children. There are several that can be very similar. Feelings of worthlessness, sadness, crying are key elements that indicate depression in teens. Listen for self-defeating comments about oneself, crying unexplainably, quick to anger for no apparent reason, genuine moping around that is unusual.

Talk about Suicide. Yes, it is ok to mention the “s” word. I can promise with all the media coverage of suicide from every angle, Robin Williams to stories about teens killing themselves, mentioning suicide doesn’t give teens and adolescent the idea. Open discussion helps address the potential elephant in the room, and while awkward, the conversation could shine light on something serious that is happening.

Depression can be difficult for those feeling it and those watching someone they love experience it. Talk about it. Don’t assume that a teenager or adolescent has or doesn’t have those feelings; be proactive in not allowing that child to feel alone in a room full of people. rw

iPad: Quiet Distraction or Toxic Consequence?

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Sitting in church, pushing the buggy at the grocery store, flipping through the magazines in the doctor’s office, family reunions…. The list goes on. Increasingly I see children, as young as two operating (effectively) handheld devices (cellphone, ipad, notebook and the like). I have to be honest; my first impression aligns with relief I do not have to hear a screaming or misbehaving child. Now, as I have (future) stepsons, who often engage in iPads, iPhones, DS, Wii, and other various media technology, I find my opinion molding into more educational and psychological standpoint. Then, I ran across an article that founded, supported, and further guided the direction my opinion was molded.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/10-reasons-why-handheld-devices-should-be-banned_b_4899218.html

While the article lists 10 (YES TEN) reasons why handheld devices should be banned, I will only touch on four.

Brain Growth. No denying that iPads appear to stimulate the child who is directly interacting with the device. However, overexposure to that iPad can actually decrease your child’s ability to pay attention, focus solely on a topic, and increase impulsivity, which leads to aggressiveness later in years. Because a child’s brain is rapidly growing at a substantial rate, technology limits and delays the growth instead of fostering healthy development.

Delayed Development. How does a child utilize, use and engage with an iPad? Sitting on a church pew, sitting on the floor, sitting in the car, sitting, sitting, sitting. Immobility produces children who have delayed development, which negatively impacts literacy and educational learning in school. Allowing a child to engage in “educational apps” has the potential to set that child back, instead of giving him/her an advantage.

Sleep Deprivation. Who functions well on less than normal amount of sleep? Study after study, and my own experience, proves that children require even more sleep than adults. Because most parents do not supervise the use of technology, and allow that same technology in the their child’s bedroom, sleep deprivation is inevitable. Which leads to the unrealistic expectation that the child should still maintain good grades when he/she is lacking the demanded rest.

Mental Illness. Aside from fostering aggression and impulse control behaviors, handheld devices has been determined to be a casual factor in many other mental illnesses among children. Some of which, from a counselor’s standpoint, are predictable: depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, and attention deficits. Other mental illnesses stemming from technology use are more disturbing and appalling: autism, bipolar disorder, and psychosis.

Our world runs on technology; I myself have several devices I use to function personally and professionally every day. Children should not be subjected to technology at the risk of causing more harm. This article, as well as, many other professionals have agreed upon a standard of allowance for children with handheld devices (because we all realize that we cannot completely eliminate technology).

0-2 years old = no exposure / 3-5 years old = one hour per day / 6-18 years old = two hours per day

I believe as a parent, a counselor, and as an advocate for the well-being of all children, we, as a society, are paving the road for our future leaders to have a laundry list of potential stumbling blocks in an otherwise successful and productive life. As part of my belief, I am now deleting all children-related apps off my devices now. I want to be instrumental in fostering a healthy lifestyle physically and emotionally for all children.