AUGUST 22ND, 2014

Depression can strike at any age, even among preschoolers, researchers report. CBS News

downloadA very interesting study came out this month that looked at depression in preschoolers. The study found that preschoolers who are depressed are two and a half times more likely to continue to experience symptoms in elementary and middle school.

The study, published recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was done at Washington University by a team headed by Dr. Joan Luby, who directs the university’s Early Emotional Development Program. It included 246 preschool children, ranging from three to five years of age. Luby’s team evaluated the children for depression and other psychiatric conditions over time.

At the onset of the study, 74 of the children were diagnosed with depression. Six years later, 79 of the children met the criteria for clinical depression, including about half of the 74 children diagnosed with depression when the study began. Of the 172 children who were not depressed as preschoolers just 24 percent of them went on to develop depression later.

The study identified a higher risk of depression for children whose mothers had suffered from depression, and those who were diagnosed with a conduct disorder while in preschool.

When I was in training, we were taught that young children could not suffer from depression because they were not old enough to have a superego — a mental structure described by Sigmund Freud that develops at about eight years old. This theory, which denied the obvious, which was that we often saw depressed young children, flew in the face of reality and caused depressed children to be left untreated up until the last few decades.

Today, we know that people of all ages can suffer from depression, especially young children who grow up in stressful circumstances. If untreated, this depression can lead to severe consequences including further depression, educational slowing, behavior disorders and other syndromes.

I agree with the researchers that children as early as three years old should be screened. Childhood depression can be treated, and there are a host of interventions that help including psychotherapy, family therapy, and medication.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.