I love working with kids. I love being a dad. What is it that causes depression in children? Let’s take that on today together. What causes depression in children? I’m feeling, as I approach this topic today, to share with you some of my experience.
I remember a time when this was early on; I think I was in my graduate program of BYU, and I got assigned to work on a unit at the Utah State Hospital where children, little kids, some of these kids were three, four, five years old up to about 11 or 12.
And then they’d move on to another unit for adolescents and all their kids. I remember on this children’s unit, at the state hospital, these kids had been sent there for a variety of reasons, some of them had depression.
Now depression is very uncommon in children. Actually, the statistics put it at about 2% to 3% of the population of kids under the age of 12 have a diagnosable depression. Now there’s a whole lot of other kids who have sadness or you know, typical may be signs or symptoms of depression, but it doesn’t reach the level of a clinical diagnosis. These kids at the State Hospital were severely compromised, a lot of them had been abused severely.
I’m sharing this with you because what causes depression and children? Children are naturally joyful, that’s been my experience. If they are mistreated or abused, it steals from them their opportunity to have a joyful experience, and it’s one of the precursors for depression.
Not all children who are abused become depressed but it is a very high correlation between some kind of mistreatment or neglect that they experience in early childhood and even if they don’t become depressed as kids, sometimes this contributes to depression later on in life.
Those things aren’t fun to talk about but let me go back to something that I just mentioned because kids are naturally joyful. I remember when I was working at the State Hospital, this little guy, we’ll call him Kevin, this little guy, he’s four or five years old maybe and he’s running up and down the halls, and he’s pretending that he’s a police officer.
And he comes whirring up behind me, and he’s got his little siren going, and I turn around, and he says, “Hey, mister! Stop right there, you’re getting a ticket.”
I said, “Well, why are you giving me a ticket?” “Cause you’re walking way too fast.”
This kid is basically incarcerated in a state facility for severe problems and his family as an environment still his nature is playful and joyful, and I love that about kids. I think if we could become more like them, we might have a more joyful experience as well.
Now let me tie this into something that I’ve learned about depression, and I’ve learned this not just from kids and adolescents but from adults in over two decades of clinical experience. There is a belief that is at the root of depression, okay.
We call it a depressogenic belief, and the feeling is this, my worth, my value can change. Now that may have surprised you. You might think the depression is caused by believing that you’re worthless, well that’s a version of this belief that your worth, your value can change, it can go up, it can go down, it can be high, it can take below. That belief causes depression.
Now let’s tie that into what we know about children because they are busy learning about this world all the time and where are they going to learn it? The big people, from the people they interact with daily, particularly their parents, but it could be other caregivers or people in their world who are teaching them things.
What one thing could we teach our children that would fortify them against depression?
If you believe what I’m saying about this belief, this depressogenic belief, what we want to teach them is that their value is fixed and permanent, they can’t make it go up, they can’t make it go down, and that value is excellent.
Now parents usually get this, you look at your children, what are they worth. Wow. Can you see the infinite value that’s there in those kids? Now, do they get it? Do they understand that their value is excellent? Do you?
Because where are they going to learn it? What if you personally are struggling with this idea that maybe your value or worth could change? Now that’s something we may want to talk about but look what it does to our kids as they start to pick up on that, as they see mom looking at the mirror and saying, I’m just ugly or fat. Alright?
Now, mom is convinced in her own mind, oh yeah, it’s true. Right? But what about the daughter over there in the corner watching this? What about the son who’s noticing that dad hates himself. Why would dad hate himself? Well, because his value is in the toilet, right?
I’m talking to you very authentically right now because I didn’t want to get into all of the statistics and everything that causes child depression. I want to get right to the heart of this thing. It’s a belief that your worth can change.
What if we could teach our children that it is fixed and it is great, and we start by believing that ourselves and if you’re struggling with the feeling that, then maybe there are some other conversations we need to have and perhaps you learned it, wherever you learned it.
I mean, we come by this stuff honestly, but this is almost epidemic that people get into this mindset that somehow they need to be a better person. I’m not saying that we should stop trying to improve, there’s always something you can do to show up in a way that is more influential and powerful in this world that is more joyful that has you experiencing life at a more productive level.
Yeah, not talking about that, I’m talking about your value, your core worth, it’s fixed, they can’t change, and that’s what we need to teach these kids. I have found that even kids who have gone through some of the most challenging things that you can imagine.
As long as they get centered on that belief that their worth is excellent and that it’s fixed, they do okay, and they can be very resilient. I think that’s the answer. Now that doesn’t sound very psychological, but from an old psychologist who’s been doing this for a couple of decades, that’s kind of what it comes down to. I think we can help our kids best by showing them that they are always great.
Our job is to love them no matter what and even if so as I share with you some tips and techniques about parenting, I’m going to come back to that again and again. Your job is to love them no matter what and even if so that in our approach to them in our parenting, we’re not sending the message that, oh, you’re a good boy if you do what I say, you’re a bad boy if you don’t, see, your worth can change. No, he’s a great boy no matter what, and his own level of happiness is going to change based on what he chooses to do.
So, we’re going to tie it to the behaviors and the principles, not to his value and worth. The words that we use matter, okay. And if we are to say, good boy, bad boy, for example, that’s just an example of something prevalent, and I don’t want you to feel guilty or bad or shamed because you’ve used that with your kids but just notice that that implies some value for that person, okay.
So instead, we tie it to outcomes and consequences so they can see. Yeah, my choices matter, I get to have more or less happiness and joy depending on what I choose, doesn’t change my worth. That’s subtle, it’s also powerful, and I think that’s at the core of what we’re talking about with childhood depression and depression in general.
Here we are trying to help our kids. I think they could help us a lot too, as we learn from them how to have a more joyful life. I hope you have a joyful experience. I’ll see you tomorrow.
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