Over 40 million Americans struggle with mental illness in any given year.1 In racial and ethnic minority communities, mental health issues have often gone unaddressed. To raise awareness of this issue, July was declared as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2008.
A report by the National Research Council titled “Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children” stated that untreated, unrecognized parental depression can lead to negative consequences for kids. In a given year an estimated 7.5 million adults with depression have a child under the age of 18 living with them. It is estimated that at least 15 million children live in households with parents who have major or severe depression. Dr. Beardslee who was on the committee that issued the report explained that problems in children can range from poor school performance to visits to emergency rooms and adolescent depression.
There’s something about the unconditional love between a pet and its owner that cannot be properly described in words. Animals have been our companions since the day our ancestors learned to walk on two feet. That relationship has grown stronger now and humans and animals depend on each other more than ever. Dogs, cats, birds, dolphins, and even horses have been said to help with allergies, asthma, physical pain, and a variety of other ailments. Now a growing body of scientific research is showing that pets’ unconditional love and loyalty really can make a positive impact at the side of a patient with a mental illness.
“If someone needs my help for anything, I’m there. I’ll be the friend they can count on to listen to them and give them advice on whatever issues they may be facing. But I can’t ask for help for myself. It’s just too hard.”
He is bold, brazen and courageous! Screenwritter Graham Moore- age 34, shared his Oscar winning moment with millions of teens around the world as he bravely disclosed his attempted suicide when he was 16 years old. Moore made abundantly clear that his Hollywood moment in the limelight was not for him alone, but for the numerous teens suffering with depression.
“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”
Often we may feel sluggish and low in energy during inclement weather; however, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more than feeling the occasional winter or rainy day blues. Depression related to seasonal change can be severe and affects up to 6% of the general population. Symptoms of SAD usually manifest in the fall and continue throughout the winter months; although, some people experience symptoms beginning in the spring or summer months. In either situation, symptoms may begin mildly and become increasingly more severe as the season progresses.
Study Finds Antidepressants May Cause More Harm Than Good in Children and Adolescents
A recent meta-analysis of 34 drug trials involving more than 5,000 patients was completed by Dr. Andrea Cipriani and colleagues of Oxford University. Of those 34, 22 were paid for by drug companies, leaving the reviewing scientists to remark on the quality of the studies as “very low”. Explaining further, scientists remarked on their findings being so poor they were unable to explain why this type of treatment is recommended, referring to antidepressants prescriptions for teens. Jon Jureidini of the University of Australia explains, “There is little reason to think that any antidepressant is better than nothing for young people.” One drug in particular, Effexor, was linked to an increased risk of suicide attempts and ideation in this population. Only one drug of the 14 reviewed demonstrated statistical significance above its placebo without significant side effects, Prozac; Reviewers caution, their findings should not deter physicians from prescribing these medications when necessary, but rather proceed with caution when using as a first line treatment.
Major Depressive Disorder affects roughly three percent of children aged six to 12 years, and about six percent of teens aged 13 to 18. Reviewers of the available data found when a pharmacological intervention is required in children and young adults, Fluoxetine (Prozac), is likely to be the safest, with the best chance of efficacy. When combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), its efficacy increased dramatically over either Prozac or CBT administered individually.
In 2004, the FDA adopted a “black box” label warning for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) being used to treat children for depression. This was done after a review found that four percent of 2,200 children treated with SSRI experienced suicidal ideation or attempted. The report did note no suicide was completed. In 2007, the FDA extended the warning to include young adults up to age 25.
Alternatives to SSRIs exist, and are worth exploring. First line treatments may begin with CBT to help the child or teen to better understand and cope with their increasing emotions, distress, while learning methods to control both. Regular exercise, while appearing daunting to someone with depression, allows the release of several neurotransmitters thought to be beneficial in reduction of depressive symptoms, norepinephrine being one of the most important. Norepinephrine is located in locus coeruleus, a brain area connecting most brain regions involved in emotional and stress responses. The increased presence of norepinephrine may result in a healthier stress response to emotional triggers. Easier behavior changes, such as examining the diet your child is on, can play a role in treating depression. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish demonstrate a lower prevalence of depression among populations whose diets primarily consist of these. Alternatives to medication also include treatments such as repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), using a powerful electromagnetic field to stimulate the prefrontal cortex to treat depression. This procedure was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008 for treatment resistant depression in adults, and studies that may lead to a similar indication in adolescents are ongoing (multiple small studies indicating safety and efficacy for depression in the adolescent population have been published already.) This procedure continues to demonstrate an increasing safety record, while practicing TMS physicians continue to increase efficacy through new treatment protocols. Any and all attempts of treatment should be under the care and direction of a physician. Though depression remains categorized as a mood disorder, it involves the whole body and its treatment should as well.