As a therapeutic boarding school, Boulder Creek Academy provides educational programs designed to help teenagers with behavioral difficulties. One such difficulty Boulder Creek Academy is designed to address is clinical depression, which is experienced by approximately one in 20 children in the United States. Depression can take several forms, including major depression, which causes extended periods of sadness that interfere with a child’s daily activities; dysthymia, which has less dramatic effects but can persist for a year or more; and bipolar disorder, which causes periods of depression to alternate with those of irritability and emotional outbursts.
Clinical depression is not merely the occasional sadness, lack of motivation, or low self-confidence that almost all children experience. Expecting a child to “snap out of it” or scolding a child for showing a lack of interest in his or her responsibilities is liable to upset the child further and intensify feelings of unworthiness. Likewise, it is rarely helpful to explain to a child why he or she shouldn’t be depressed, since major depression is not a rational response to pain or loss. The child may be fully aware that he or she has no specific reason to be upset, but this realization may not be enough actually to relieve the child of depression.
Depression can be caused by numerous factors. Traumatic life events such as a death in the family or parental separation can trigger long periods of serious depression, and its incidence is higher in children who have attention or learning disorders. There may be a genetic component as well, as some genes result in reduced levels of neurotransmitters that normally produce feelings of satisfaction or happiness. Because of this, children are more likely to experience depression if it is present in other family members.