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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday's Psychology Tips: Could You Have Had Undiagnosed Depression Since Childhood ?

Thought for the Day: On Tuesday's I have been sharing questions I have answered on HealthTap. Here's an interesting question that many people wonder about when they come for therapy as adults. They often question whether they have been depressed for most of their lives, even though they thought they had healthy childhoods. If any of the situations I describe ring true for you, know that you can work through depression, even if it has been undiagnosed for years. Feel free to ask me questions about this or other issues you may be wondering about.

Here's the brief answer I gave on HealthTap with a bit more elaboration.

Dr. Barbara Lavi answered:

Some children do not appear to be depressed or are afraid to let anyone know they are unhappy. This is very common when there is abuse or neglect happening at home. They are afraid to let others know something is wrong and do not want to get their parents or themselves in trouble. These children also may not know that life could be any different. They find ways to cope and try not to feel the sadness. So, later in life they realize they have been depressed since childhood.

Kids do not want to be different from their peers. Although they may never invite friends to visit their homes, they try to blend in and appear to be like their classmates. At times, they even fool themselves. The need to simply survive until they are old enough to live on their own helps some children disguise their depression. Some children become class clowns as a way to avoid their sadness. Beneath all the joking may be concerns about alcoholism or abuse at home that they hide from the rest of the world. Other children become outstanding students as a way to escape their sorrow. School and their academic success may be a refuge from and a potential escape route from issues they cannot change at home. In a similar way, if a child has a talent in sports or the arts, the activity may be their distraction from dysfunctional events at home. 

Often these children who have done well in school see college as their ticket to freedom. For some the depression appears in college with excessive drinking or academic problems. For others, it may not be identified until later in life when adult responsibilities begin to bring them down. Many a parent comes in for family therapy when their children have problems and only then begin to realize that they were never really happy as children. Sometimes they discover that when they get angry they behave like their parents in ways they vowed never to treat their own children. They then realize that their depression has been buried or repressed for years. 

When childhood depression is diagnosed as an adult, it is an opportunity to finally process the impact of difficult experiences from the past. As an adult, it is safe to address all the feelings they had towards their parents but were afraid to express as children. It is never too late to work through these feelings in therapy.

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