Location: Bradley Hospital

Bradley Hospital

What Could a Child or Teenager Be Depressed About?

Subtle symptoms, serious problem

She couldn't say what went wrong, but something changed in Emily soon after she turned 13. She stopped texting with her friends, grew quiet at home, tuned out at school, lost interest in sports. And no one else really noticed-not her teachers, not her parents-until the day she tried to end her life.

Fortunately, Emily's suicide attempt failed, and she was admitted to Bradley Hospital for evaluation and treatment. The diagnosis: depression combined with an anxiety disorder. This was more than just a phase, or the normal pressures of puberty. This was a pervasive emotional disturbance, a persistent "down" mood that nearly had fatal consequences.

Experts say that, nationwide, about 20 percent of children like Emily-some as young as kindergarteners-show signs of serious depression by age 18. A sizable majority of these kids don't get treatment. They continue to suffer in silence.

Stemming the tide

In Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, as with many other parts of the country, the need for community-based mental health care is greater than the available resources. Pediatricians, family practitioners, and school counselors are on the "front lines" in identifying and treating depression in their own patients and students. But these professionals often feel overwhelmed by the unique and urgent needs of children and teens struggling with depression and other mental illnesses.

And then there are the suffering silent, like Emily, who may blame themselves for a problem beyond their control, and may not be "found" until it's too late.

This is where Bradley Hospital is now paving the way toward providing the best care possible for the greatest number of kids.

Integrated approach, effective treatment

"As our understanding of the different types of depression improves, we can make earlier diagnoses and begin to implement and develop workable treatments sooner," says Jeffrey Hunt, MD, a child psychiatrist at Bradley Hospital and associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "But we still need larger outpatient programs at Bradley and within individual communities."

Here are just a few of the ways Bradley Hospital, using an integrated approach and a combination of treatments, is helping children with depression and other mental health problems:

Childhood depression

  • Expanded treatment space (inpatient and outpatient)
  • Individual, group, and family therapy options
  • Afterschool programs and activities (SafeQuest)
  • The most effective medications (combined with other therapies)
  • Public education (Parenting Matters and Speaking of Kids series)
  • Targeted research (from brain imaging to genetic analysis and beyond)

How Parents Can Help

Gregory Fritz, MD, Bradley's academic director, advises parents to be alert to any behavioral changes in their children that persist or seem unnatural. If you are concerned or worried that suicide is a possibility, call a mental health professional for an assessment. Bradley Hospital is especially well qualified, with experts in children's mental and emotional health.