“The biggest myth about childhood depression is that it doesn’t exist,” says Director of The Beast Foundation Kuziva Mtawarira who holds an honours degree in psychology…

If her same sounds familiar, it is because Kuziva Mtawarira is married to legendary Springbok rugby star, Tendai (The Beast) Mtawarira.

But Kuziva is ‘legendary’ in her own right. As director of The Beast Foundation, she spends her time empowering young people in their communities “to be the best version of themselves.”

October is Mental Health Awareness Month, which was created to help break the stigma around mental health conditions, and encourage sufferers to seek help.

All4Women chatted to Kuziva about childhood and adolescent depression, and how parents can identify mental health issues in children and handle the situation effectively.

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“Studies show that three percent of kids between pre-school age and 17-years-old suffer from depression,” says Kuziva. “Children as young as 6 or 7 years-old have been diagnosed with depression.”

According to SADAG statistics, up to 20 percent of children will suffer from depression in their school years.

Kuziva Mtawarira
Kuziva Mtawarira, Psychologist and Director of The Beast Foundation

Coronavirus chaos

The recent pandemic has caused a lot of upheaval and stress in families around the world. Many are dealing with huge economic pressures, and this can take its toll on parents as well as kids.

While children may not know exactly what’s going on, they will sense when their parents are struggling to cope. “It is highly likely that children become depressed when they experience stressful events or live in a stressful environment,” says Kuziva. Their natural coping skills have also been affected. “With schools being closed, kids haven’t had the comfort of ‘hanging out’ with their peers and playing outside.”

How do parents or teachers know when there’s an issue?

“Sadness and unhappiness are normal feelings for children to experience,” notes Kuziva. “But when these feelings are prolonged, and if they are often experienced, then there’s a cause for concern.”

Some of the symptoms teachers and parents should look out for as published in the DSM-V are:

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • A low self-esteem – feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • A change in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in weight
  • Unusual sadness or increased irritability that persists even when circumstances change
  • Feelings of guilt and anger
  • Low energy
  • Academic success deterioration
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide

“Children with depression may not necessarily experience all these symptoms,” says Kuziva. “But if several of the symptoms are present for at least two weeks, it can be suggested to be depression.”

How is depression treated in young children?

Just as with adults, there are a number of ways that a child’s depression can be treated.

“Most recommended treatment for children would be psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy,” says Kuziva. “This kind of therapy focuses mostly on talking about feelings and thoughts and how they impact one’s behaviour.”

“Play therapy is also a great way for kids who are not that verbally equipped to do talk therapy.”

Kuziva says that prescribed medication should be used “cautiously”. However, some children are given antidepressants together with psychotherapy for best results.

childhood depression
Copyright : Tatiana Kostareva (123rf.com)

How can parents support a child who is suffering from depression?

“Your child needs emotional support, and you need to be their number one person,” says Kuziva.

She offers the following tips:

  • Spend quality time with your child
  • Encourage open and honest conversations
  • Listen to what your child has to say
  • Acknowledge their inner struggles
  • Inspire your child to join a club at school, or attend activities to boost their ‘connection’ with other people
  • Encourage play dates

Kuziva also stresses that a healthy lifestyle is key to managing the symptoms of depression (for adults and children).

Equipping children for life’s difficulties

All4Women chatted to Kuziva about how she and Tendai are raising their children to be resilient. The couple have two young kids, aged seven and nine years old.

“I try teach them to be resilient in character, strong in their beliefs and to be kind in their ways. And we assure them that above all else they are loved,” says Kuziva.

“No matter how difficult life’s circumstances may be, they know that they have a loving place that is home.”

Kuziva also values talking about the ‘big’ issues with her kids, even though they are still quite young.

“We speak on some issues such as racism, bullying, gender inequality using child-friendly terms. Some of these topics we speak on before or after encountering situations.”

However, she does say that balance is key. For a sensitive child, “you’d rather not over-expose them and risk the child feeling anxious.”

Where to find help:

Cipla SADAG Mental Health Line

  • 0800 4567 789 or WhatsApp 076 88 22 775
  • For a suicidal Emergency: 0800 567 567

Find a Support Group in your area

  • 0800 21 22 23

TherapyRoute

TherapyRoute is a mental health service directory and resource that helps people find nearby mental health services, e.g. psychologists, social workers, community clinics, NGO’s, and psychiatric hospitals throughout South Africa (and beyond).https://www.therapyroute.com/

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.