National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Help Me, Iím Sad

by David G. Fassler, M.D., and Lynne S. Dumas

Review by Brenda Souto, Bill Broderick, and Brenda Bickel for the NAMI Literature Committee, May 1998

Although it is becoming increasingly clear that clinical depression in children is not uncommon, it was less than 20 years ago that the phenomenon of childhood depression was officially diagnosed as a reality. Today, NIMH estimates that 1.5 million children and adolescents are severely depressed; other estimates are even higher.

Readers of Help Me, I'm Sad will be grateful, indeed, to authors who have managed to produce a very understandable, well-organized, instructive, and sensitive guide for families of these depressed youngsters. One is convinced that this psychiatrist has connected with the pain of parents and children on many occasions and was driven to provide this collection of his ideas to help minimize it.

A goal of equipping and supporting families is well met, as the authors devote half the book to topics such as the impact of the child's depression on the rest of the family, choosing a therapist, finding the right treatment, ways parents can help, and ways to prevent depression in youngsters.

Dr. Fassler provides parents terrific insight into the many faces of depression in children and adolescents, even toddlers. Through vignettes about patients in his clinical practice, he discusses a wide range of symptomatology from "feeling sad" to "feeling mad" and the symptoms of depression as dependent on individual temperament, personality, age, and developmental level.

Other chapters highlight the differences in "normal" depression and the clinical disorder, risk factors, co-morbidity, depression, and suicide.

A third of the book is devoted to helping parents get help, and it contains a list of organizations and resources, additional reading suggestions, and an index. There are numerous references to NAMI for information and support as well as an extensive explanation and commendation of the Journey of Hope program. In fact, the authors mention frequently the importance of seeking emotional support from others as well as doing more self-care to be a more effective caregiver.

As for preventing mental illnessóDr. Fassler's specializationóthis is a controversial issue. Some experts believe that major disorders like clinical depression are strictly genetic or neurobiological problems that cannot be prevented. Dr. Fassler is convinced, as are others, that while biological factors may predispose certain children and adults to depression, emotional and social events and considerations strongly influence whether or not depression actually develops. He believes the single most important thing one can do to protect one's children from depression is to raise them to be resilientóresilient children are much less likely to be overwhelmed by life's problems and challenges and, therefore, much less susceptible to depression.

This is a most hopeful read and is strong on stating the need for early detection and diagnosis. It is highly recommended by all the reviewers.

Help Me, Iím Sad by David G. Fassler, M.D. and Lynne S. Dumas.