When chronic pain leads to depression in kids

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Chronic pain can keep kids from being social and active, leading to anxiety and depression, a child psychiatrist says.

Unfortunately, this can turn into a vicious cycle – worsening depression and anxiety can also worsen pain perception.

Between 5% and 20% of children live with chronic pain. It usually takes the form of bone and muscle pain, headaches or abdominal pain.

"Parents may feel helpless and frightened as they watch their children try to cope – which can make them feel anxious and depressed, just when they need to be their child's biggest cheerleader," said Dr Taranjeet Jolly. He is a psychiatrist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Change in social interaction

But hope is not lost, he said. The first step is recognising that a problem exists.

"Look for red flags that depression may be overwhelming your child. Often your first clue is a change in their everyday routine," Jolly said. "Is their sleep time way up or down? Is there a marked change in their social interaction? Maybe they are more irritable, angry or emotional."

Talk to your child about what's going on and follow up with a paediatrician, he suggested. If he or she is diagnosed with depression, follow up with a child psychiatrist, he advised.

"The treatment varies according to the level of severity, but something called cognitive behavioural therapy can almost always help," Jolly said.

Some days are better

Cognitive behavioural therapy can teach pain-coping skills and how to apply them in different situations. Medication – such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, like ibuprofen) and antidepressants – may also be helpful. Overall, Jolly encourages parents to take an active role in promoting their child's well-being.

"It's a team game where the goal is to help your child stop thinking about the pain, and gain as much functionality as possible," Jolly said. "As with all challenges in life, some days are better than others, but always trying is the key."

READ | Pain Relief – When to use cold, when to use heat

WATCH | Brilliant student suffering with chronic pain finds salvation in sheepdog named Bo 

READ | Mindfulness may be a buffer against pain

Image credit: iStock

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