Childhood Depression: Pitfalls and Opportunities

Are you sure your child is happy and well-adjusted?

Of Dreams and Despair

The school-going years are supposed to be some of the most fun and memorable of one's life. For many youngsters in Hong Kong, however, this life phase is an ordeal they would much rather forget.

A 2017 poll of Primary 3 to 6 pupils in the city found 13.2% of those surveyed showed symptoms of depression. Another 9.7% - basically 1 in 10 children - exhibited severe depression. A follow-up study probing Form 1 to 6 students discovered 53% had depressive symptoms… An alarming situation, to say the least!

In both cases, whether primary or secondary school students, the pressure points revolved around academic workload and performance.

Of Dreams and Despair

To tell if your child may be silently suffering from depression, watch for the following:

  • Ailments (e.g. stomach-aches, headaches) not responding to treatment
  • Excessive or insufficient sleep (e.g. waking up 2-3 hours earlier than usual and finding hard to return to sleep)
  • Change in appetite
  • Constant fatigue or low energy
  • Heightened sensitivity to anything negative
  • Decreased interest in home, friends, school or social activities
  • Irritability and emotional outbursts
  • Feeling hopeless or guilty
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If the above symptoms - or any other unusual behaviours - persist for at least two weeks, it's time to take action.

What You Can Do

It can be challenging in Hong Kong's 'face-oriented' society, but your child's welfare comes first, so it's crucial that you as a caring, responsible parent seek professional help if you suspect your child may be depressed. The longer you delay, the greater the risk of deterioration. Meanwhile, little lifestyle adjustments can make a huge impact on your child's self-confidence, especially when he/she is already fragile:

  • For starters, make yourself more available to the child, physically and emotionally. Be there to stimulate conversation, listen, and provide unconditional support as your child opens up.
  • Prepare healthy meals. Good nutrition is important for mental health.
  • Advocate daily exercise (not necessarily sports). Better still, take family walks.
  • Encourage, and participate in, new hobbies (preferably non-digital). Music, in particular, has been proven to significantly reduce depression in children and adolescents.

Help Available

The above mentioned self-help strategies are by no means a substitute for proper treatment. Mental illness is complicated, and sometimes medication is unavoidable in addressing emotional issues - which may have various underlying causes. But educating yourself on these techniques is certainly beneficial, for both preventing and treating depression or other mental disorders in your child.

A good resource is a dedicated hotline that can support you with more information, as well as refer you to experts for professional consultation. Not only can such facility offer you convenience, customisation and cost savings, but more importantly, your acquiring early diagnosis through this channel can make all the difference to your child's future.


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