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Treating Childhood Depression: What You Need to Know

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Are you worried about your child’s moods or behaviour? Do you suspect depression? Are you confused about how to find the right help for your child? 

Unfortunately, your child is not alone. Here in the UAE, it is believed that 4% of children have depression. This is similar to figures from the US, where the CDC estimates more than 3% of American children have been diagnosed with the condition.

Despite this problem afflicting so many children, parents often don’t initially know how best to help their child. We might be aware of the main treatment options available to adults with depression but what about kids? Does counselling help? Is there depression medication suited to children? Are there any alternatives to these treatments?

Here we’ll outline popular treatment routes, including non-medicated options. This will help guide you to the best choice for your child. 

What help does your child need?

As you are probably already aware, depression is much more than just feeling a little blue from time to time. Sadness is a normal human reaction to bad news or when things don’t go your child’s way. We will all feel this way at times. 

However, when your child’s sadness persists for a long time, gets worse, or doesn’t appear to have an obvious cause, then it is worth talking to a doctor and checking for chronic or major depression.

Depression doesn’t always present as sadness. It can have many symptoms. 

Here are some other behaviours to look out for in a child that suggest they may have depression. Your child may have one or more of these symptoms. 

  • Being persistently irritable or grumpy
  • Losing interest in hobbies or favourite activities
  • Separation anxiety or clinginess
  • Declining interest in school work.
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Abnormal sleep patterns

You can see that all these symptoms are going to affect their quality of life, relationships with family and friends, their time in school and their participation in everyday life. We cannot let these symptoms persist.

How and where to get help

Depression is a medical condition, and therefore, it is only appropriate to seek direct help from medical professionals. 

Your family doctor or general practitioner is the first person you might turn to. They can make a formal diagnosis of depression or refer you to a specialist mental health practitioner. They’ll also provide you with more information and support.

If depression is confirmed, then a number of depression treatment pathways may be suggested. These include:

  • Medication
  • Counselling
  • Neurofeedback therapy

These treatments might be combined or used alone. It’s very important to engage in dialogue with medical professionals who understand your child’s unique needs. The right course of treatment will depend on the symptoms and their severity, as well as how you and your child feel about the options. 


Medication is a common way of treating depression. Your doctor will be best placed to choose the appropriate medication that will help improve depression symptoms with minimal risk of side effects. 

Medication offers a safe and effective treatment method for children but also needs to be carefully monitored. However, it’s understandable that many parents prefer to try non-medicated routes first, if possible. 


Counselling for depression comes in many forms, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy aims to make children aware that their thoughts, feelings and behaviour are related. It can help break harmful thought patterns and improve well-being.

Alternatively, interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on communication skills and improving relationships with others. Mindfulness skills are central to other forms of therapy. Mindfulness teaches your child to be more self-aware and capable of recognising when they might be entering a depressive state. 

The right type of counselling will depend on your child’s age and symptoms. Many children respond very well to counselling and their depression symptoms are improved. 

Neurofeedback therapy for depression

Neurofeedback is a non-medicated and non-invasive therapy for a variety of conditions. 

While medications can provide safe and effective treatment for depression in children, they are not the only beneficial course of therapy. One alternative is neurofeedback. It can be used alongside or instead of medication. 

Neurofeedback therapy is a brain training programme. It identifies strengths and weaknesses in the way the brain functions. It uses non-invasive ECG monitoring and delivers targeted feedback to the brain as it works. It can help identify the reasons behind depression and improve brain function to overcome it. Better still, it is both safe and enjoyable for children.

How it works

Neurofeedback therapy is fun and enjoyable for children as well as effective. Here’s why. 

A typical course of treatment involves a comprehensive evaluation of how your child’s brain works by using EEG equipment. This will highlight problems in the way their brain is functioning that may be causing their symptoms. This initial assessment will also include a discussion with you and your child about what your goals for the treatment are. 

Therapy sessions then involve following a personalized brain training plan. Your child will sit in a comfortable, pleasant room and be given their favourite choice of film or show to watch. This is not a distraction; it is part of the treatment. 

As they watch, the sound and picture will change. If their brain is working well, then they are rewarded with a clearer picture and sound. If not, then the image dims and the sound goes down, encouraging their brain to refocus. This training works to sharpen brain function and encourages the brain to follow positive behaviour patterns, so over time, it learns to self-regulate. 

How long it takes

Like all other depression therapies, neurofeedback takes several treatments to make a big difference in symptoms. Treatment time will also depend on how severe your child’s depression symptoms are at the beginning of the course. 

A typical course involves around 20 treatments. However, the effects of neurofeedback therapy are often long-term. Your child may just need an occasional follow-up appointment once the initial course is finished. 

It’s worth knowing that there is no permanent cure for depression. Whichever treatment route you choose for treating your child will involve careful, extended monitoring of symptoms. 

The right choice for your child

To make the right choice for your child, you must seek advice from medical professionals. 

Your family doctor, counsellors, mental health practitioners and neurofeedback therapists are all qualified health professionals who can provide advice and help you find the best pathway for your child. 

With their professional input, you should be able to find a treatment that makes a big difference to the health and happiness of your child. 

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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