Childhood depression, or mental illness -- how did it start? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 12-15-2008, 02:25 AM - Thread Starter
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I'm worried about my 9 year old. Really worried. He has a birth family history that puts him at high risk for mental illness, and I'm seeing some things that scare me.

I've tried to write a post describing what I see, but I can't seem to do it. So, I guess the question I have to ask is what did you see -- what did the early stages look like, when did you know, rather than just suspect, that there was a problem and what did you do? What do you wish you had done?


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#2 of 7 Old 12-15-2008, 01:46 PM
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I don't have much advice, but I couldn't read and not post. Looking at it from a strictly logical place I think that probably the best thing to do would be to look around for a child psychiatrist to take him to for an evaluation.
I grew up in a house with a brother who was diagnosed as schizophrenic and who was often very, very depressed as a child. It made my childhood very difficult and I wish that my parents had found help for him before he "demanded" it with destructive behaviours.
Thinking of you and your son.

Mother of two. : 4/05 and 1/07 Wife of one. : 7/01
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#3 of 7 Old 12-15-2008, 07:00 PM
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We're still figuring out what my son (age 8) has -- definitely Tourette's and ADHD, depression and anxiety -- probably bipolar but we have not yet seen a psychiatrist (hopefully January).

Anyway, when did we know something was up for sure? By age 3, for him -- we didn't know what, but he was already having rages, severe mood shifts/lability, irritability... this progressed as he got older into both grandiose thoughts and pressured speech and intense self-hatred, including talk of suicide. Last spring he went through a period of intense depression including attempts at self-harming and was nearly hospitalized. He is fairly stable at the moment so we are using the peace to get the psych referrals in place etc. for the next crisis, when we will probably go with medication (or should I say, a different medication -- he is on guanfacine right now for this TS/ADHD, which helps some with all of it.) I will say too that even as an infant he was very high-needs and intense. I see the connection between his severe colicky crying at 3 months and the rages he has now. But it was very clear that he wasn't typical by 3.

I second the suggestion to get a psychiatrist, or a least a psychologist on board. Its so hard when you are in it to have the perspective an outsider has, and having professional help is such a relief because the burden is no longer just on you, you can share the worry.

Good luck, mama.
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#4 of 7 Old 12-16-2008, 12:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks both of you!

Daytripper, I actually grew up in a similar situation, with an older sister with mental illness who made my life very difficult. Like storychick's son, however, my sister showed signs of difficulty from a very early age -- my mother will tell you that even as an infant she was very different. There was no deterioration to speak of because she never really functioned typically.

My son, on the other hand, was a very sunny infant and a toddler. He had medical issues that sometimes caused pain but when he wasn't in pain he was a happy, smiling little boy. His teachers in daycare commented repeatedly about how easy going (yet active, lots of energy) he was, and how he got along with everyone.

However, I feel like a cloud has slipped in front of that sunshine. Not all the time, but enough of the time that I worry.

I think that if someone came in from the outside and looked at a snapshot in time, they'd tell me there was nothing to worry about. He's right on target academically, and his teachers tell me he's never a behavior problem except for the occaisional incidence of whispering to his neighbor. He has the capacity to be very joyful in a really wonderful way (not manic, regularly joyful) but it's now interspersed with periods of irritability when he cries about little things or mopes around the house complaining that he's bored. What I don't see any more is periods of contentedness, unless he's in the car listening to a book on tape. I think if we didn't have the family history (my sister, at least one grandparent on my "side" and both birth parents have major psychiatric diagnoses) I'd look at him and think this was the beginning of adolescent moodiness, but 9 seems really young for that.

His interests are also slipping, which I've heard is a big sign of mood problems. He still has several organized outside activities that he enjoys, Tae Kwon Do, Soccer, Ice Hockey, but he has trouble thinking of things to do on his own, and is resistant (resistant isn't exactly the right word -- he's a very compliant kid so if I say put your shoes on we're going to the ice skating rink he'll tell me he doesn't want to go, but meanwhile he's putting on his shoes and heading towards the car, and then when we get there he wants to go home) to doing things he used to love like going to the movies, or to the ice skating rink, or taking a hike in the park, or painting a picture. Again, I think some narrowing of interests is normal in middle childhood -- kids go from wanting to play 3 sports once a week, to wanting to play travel soccer. They get into drawing comics and do it nonstop. But I don't see anything increasing to take the place of what's dwindling.

So, while I'm a believer in catching things early, I'm not sure what a psychiatrist would do at this point. I do believe in medication, but I really don't think we're there yet. I also don't want to make this a self fufilling prophecy. I think that adopted kids are sometimes made to think that they're made in the image of their birth parents, and if I take him to the psychiatrist I'll be contributing to that.

Anyway, I'd love to hear more stories, especially from people whose children developed mental illness in middle childhood.
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#5 of 7 Old 12-16-2008, 01:03 AM
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I'll tell you what I can. My eldest son just turned 15 last week and has had periods of depression starting about 8 years old.

He was similar to the way you describe your DS: very active, energetic, and happy happy happy. I could never have imagined a happier baby, actually, and he was an easygoing toddler and preschooler, too.

His first episode of depression happened during the winter after he turned 8. I didn't recognize it really until it was over. The most striking symptom was the things he said - hopeless, sad things about life, friends, etc. Nothing is ever fun, no one in the whole world likes me, life has always been terrible, that kind of stuff. It was upsetting, but I kind of figured he was getting older. Then he just kind of bubbled out of it in the spring and we forgot about it.

Another episode about 6 months later got my attention and I took him to therapy for awhile, which didn't help. A year later he had a much deeper episode (he's never had an episode that lasted longer than 1 1/2 - 2 months) and we put him on some medicine for the first time. We chose Prozac because there's the most research on it regarding kids. At that time I also got really busy with getting his sleep straightened out. When he gets depressed, he can't sleep, which increases his depression. I gave him warm milk and melatonin every night, and clonidine occasionally on the really bad nights. That helped. On days when he really didn't want to leave the house, I took him out for short walks, just to get the sun on his face. That helped a lot. He always came in happier than before we left.

All this time, I was really dreading puberty and adolescence. I thought he'd have a terrible time, that the depressions would get worse or more frequent. Happily, the opposite has happened. He hasn't had any significant depressive symptoms lasting longer than a week or so since he was 12 years old. Of course I stay alert because he's vulnerable, but he's not needed any meds for several years now.

Good luck! I hope you find the answers you need soon and that your DS is OK. While you're looking and investigating, I definitely recommend sunshine and good sleep. You can never go wrong with extra attention to those two things, right?


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#6 of 7 Old 12-16-2008, 09:52 AM
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My daughter has been showing signs of depression since even before she turned 3.
At age 5 (this past summer) we found out she has Celiac disease. I took her off gluten AND all dairy (just had a feeling she was also reacting to that) and her moods improved DRAMATICALLY. I really was shocked within a few days how she was smiling, she wasn't hiding behind the couch anymore unable to speak, etc.
When she's back on dairy, she literally turns into this sad, weepy, AGGRESSIVE (totally out of character for her), depressed mess. I *highly* recommend the book Is This Your Child by Doris Rapp. She has chapters in there about depression, aggresion, including info on suicidal behaviour etc.

While I never felt her depression was 'cured', she was much better and honestly I'd never seen her smile so much which is bittersweet to me...more recently, I felt she was getting low again (new baby, winter it's really dark and freezing around here,etc) but not as bad as she was.

About a month back I took her in to my ND and we found out she also Leaky Gut Syndrome and has a severe B-12 deficiency, one of the symptoms is also depression. She also has the tingly hands/feet and bedwetting (b12 defiencey effects the nerves including the bladder) so right now we are working on those things. Trying to fill her up with as much nutrients as possible as I'm sure the Celiac is the culprit.

I guess what I'm getting at is, *for me*, my first line of defense would be finding out about any medical/nutritional causes to get at the root of the problem. Next I'd go for natural antidepressants (homeopathic, st.john's wort, 5-htp, etc.) After that I'm not opposed to regular antidepressants. I went on them myself in highschool and they were the best thing ever!

I also want to mention as an aside, I remember being very 'aware' of my own depression at age 9. I guess not knowing what it was, just that I was always "sad for no reason" and that "I've always felt like this my whole life". I did however exhibit symptoms way before that, around pre-K age. AFter talking to my mom and from my own memories, my dd was acting EXACTLY like I was, even VERY specific behaviours like obsessively picking at our cuticles, hiding behind the couch, not being able to speak when upset, etc. Her and I have the exact same medical problems. I found out a few months before her, that I too have Celiac and dairy allergy and we were both severely anemic despite eating meat/iron-rich foods our whole lives. WE're on the road to recovery but it's not easy.

to you and your family. Depression sucks.

Helping women overcome postpartum depression and birth trauma.

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#7 of 7 Old 12-16-2008, 06:15 PM
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I had anxiety that started in my early teens (12-14-ish, I'm 33 now, hard to remember exactly) and depression a few years later, so I can share from the POV of a young adult experiencing it. If you think you're seeing signs, whatever approach you choose, I'd really pursue it, because I know my anxiety and depression really colored the way I saw the world, but I don't think my parents realized at the time what was happening, and we were, and are, quite close. With them I was more comfortable, and so the signs were less--not sure if all kids/teens would compensate that way, but I did. It was only years later that I asked if they'd noticed anything, and they didn't remember it if they had, but we did talk quite a bit and they knew quite a bit about what was going on with my life, my friends, all that stuff.

I was naturally a pretty quiet kid, not in a bad way, that's just me, so it was harder for, say, teachers or other folks to know how I felt. I myself didn't realize I was anxious until I was about 20, and I went to our family doctor about my depression (knowing we had a family history of depression and bipolar was important for me to recognize in myself what was happening). Our doc gave me a couple questionnaires and said I was moderate for both anxiety and depression--the depression wasn't a surprise, but the anxiety was.

At the time I never considered anything except anti-depressant medication, and my 2nd med worked well. That said, if I'd known to start looking for physical reasons for the anxiety and depression, that would've better served me in the long run. For me, both the anxiety and the depression are based on very physical things that I am changing--it's tendencies that run in my family, thus lots of us have things like anxiety, depression, bipolar and whatnot (fwiw, for my family it's toxic load, mainly mercury from our fillings--I got my 5 amalgam fillings when I was about 11 or 12 and the anxiety set in fairly soon thereafter).
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