Veda Kalekar, 12, has been depressed for some weeks now. The reason: Her friends on Facebook have blocked her following a tiff at a school picnic.
While this would be a trivial matter in an adult’s life, the behaviour of her friends mattered a lot to the Std VIII student. Veda (not her original name) is now undergoing treatment for acute depression.
Psychiatrists say depression among children is on the rise and the reasons have undergone a sea change. About a decade ago, a child would be depressed mostly because of parental pressure to excel academically.
Nowadays children move freely in the cyber world. Often they are depressed when friends say negative things on social networking sites or when parents refuse to give in to their costly demands — say a mobile phone like Blackberry or iPhone.
Seema Hingorany, a clinical psychologist who is treating Veda, said she is academically sound. “She went into depression when her friends started ignoring her or blocking her on Facebook or posting negative messages about her,” Hingorany said. “She became paranoid. Her parents got worried when she started avoiding school.”
When they figured out that developments on the social networking site could be a reason, they sought profession help.
Doctors say it is important for children to have more hits on the
“Like” button or to have someone posting positive messages on such sites.
Dr Fabian Almeida, child psychiatrist, said a young boy was depressed because he did not have enough friends on his Facebook profile. “His best friends had more friends than him. Also his status updates and profile pictures did not get much comments,” the doctor said.
Social media has good things as well like improving communication skills. But parents have to be careful, say doctors. They should decide when the time is right for their children to venture into social networking sites.
“In Veda Kalekar’s case,” said Hingorany, “her parents have banned her from using Facebook till the time she is matured enough to handle the negative aspects of social networking sites. In the past, whenever Veda logged on to Facebook she would check the profiles of her friends and feel depressed.”
And this is not the only reason why depression among children is on the rise. “I recently got a case where a boy was depressed because his parents refused to buy him a Blackberry phone,” Dr Rajiv Anand, child psychiatrist, said. “His friends with Blackberrys had formed groups... Since he hadn’t any, he felt alienated.”
There are instances of children going into depression because parents have refused to give them costly phones or iPhones or iPads. “At times, children even threaten their parents with consequences if their demands are not met,” Anand said.
And then there are cases of cyber bullying, online harassment, and sexting on mobile phones. While it is difficult to stop a child from venturing into the cyber world, parents and teachers can inculcate good habits like reading or playing sports.
“We have to ensure children develop healthy hobbies like sports, or book reading or going to the gym or playing indoor games,” Almeida said. “Prevention is always better. In case there is a problem, parents should immediately seek professional help.”