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Kids with depression six times more likely to lack social, academic skills

Toronto: Children who suffer from depression are six times more likely to have skill deficits, such as difficulties with social interactions or academics, a study has found.

Scientists say that up to three per cent of children between ages 6-12 might have major depressive disorder, but parents and teachers also had difficulties recognising depression in children.

"When you ask teachers and parents to rate a child's level of depression, there is usually only about 5-10 per cent overlap in their ratings," said Keith Herman, a professor at University of Missouri in the US.

"For example, the teacher might report that a child has difficulties making friends in class, but the parent might not notice this issue at home," said Herman.

"Some people would view that overlap as the truth about a child's well-being and areas of disagreement as errors, but we need to explore the possibility that they each are seeing different aspects of children's behaviour and mental health," he said.

Researchers completed profile analyses of 643 children in early elementary school to explore how patterns between student, teacher and parent reporting can be used to gain a holistic picture of a child's mental health.

They found that even though 30 per cent of children in the study reported feeling mildly to severely depressed, parents and teachers often failed to recognise the child as depressed.

However, teachers and parents were more skilled at identifying other symptoms that might predict long-term risk for depression, such as social problems, inattention and skill deficits.

This could be crucial, as Herman found that the children showing severe signs of depression were six times more likely to have skill deficits than their peers.

"The gold standard for identifying children who might be at risk for developing depression later in life is to ask the children themselves," Herman said.

"However, even if a child doesn't say they feel depressed, certain outward behaviors might provide clues to the state of the child's mental health," he said.

"It's important for teachers and parents to catch these behaviours early to prevent long-term problems that occur with depression," he added.

Mental health professionals can work with teachers and parents to identify depressive symptoms early by including self-reports from children in mental health evaluations.

Screenings also should consider social difficulties, inattention and skill deficits as this might help provide support to at-risk students before they develop further depressive symptoms. 

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