Depression in preschoolers: Is it possible?

Depression in preschoolers: Is it possible?

Find out what the experts say and more in this interesting article...

We know that depression can affect children. But what's the youngest age at which a child can suffer from this condition?

From as young as three years old is the surprising answer, as indicated by the results of a new study led by Dr. Joan Luby, the director of the Early Emotional Development Program at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Nobody believed preschoolers could get depressed,” said Dr. Luby, in a TIME article. “People generally assumed children under the age of six were too developmentally immature to experience the core emotions of depression.

However, Dr. Luby's latest research, the results of which were published in JAMA Psychiatryprovides proof of depression in very young children.

The study

Over the span of 11 years, researchers followed 193 children between 3 and 6 years old (90 of them diagnosed with a major depressive disorder) to monitor and collect data from brain scans.

Researchers discovered that as the children got older, a greater loss of cortical grey matter was lost in those children who showed depressive symptoms in comparison to those who were not depressed.

Cortical grey matter is linked with the regulation of emotions.

Put simply, a child's brain won't just 'grow' out of depression. What the research suggests is that the condition, when diagnosed in early childhood, is likely to follow kids into adolescence.

Is it possible to identify symptoms of depression in preschoolers?

Not really, says clinical psychologist Rachael Tan. She explains that the body of research pertaining to depression in very young children is still too small to provide definite warning signs and symptoms.

Most information on currently identified risk factors for depression has been based on older children, teenagers and adults. What's more, "in children below six years of age, there are often many other confounding factors that could be causing the 'signs of depression' (e.g., growth spurts)," explains Rachael.

Her sentiments are echoed by Dr. Luby, who tells TIME, “The availability of appropriate treatments is still highly problematic. There has not been enough research into how to effectively treat the disorder, and the types of psychosocial parent-child therapies that are generally used for younger children are not broadly available.”

And this is exactly why Dr. Luby is continuing to study a treatment she developed for preschools called Parent Child Interaction Therapy—Emotion Development (PCIT-ED).

"The therapy involves both children and their parents and tries to improve their relationship and helps kids better manage their emotions," says the TIME report.

Luby is currently in the process of testing the treatment in a randomized control trial, which will eventually involve 250 depressed preschoolers and their caregivers.

Parents, if you suspect things are not quite right with your pre-schooler, please consult with your paediatrician without delay who can, if needed, refer you to an appropriate specialist.

Do share your thoughts on the topic of depression in preschoolers by posting a comment below. 

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