For most preschoolers, life is about laughing, playing, and having fun. But that’s not always the case.
Child psychiatrist Joan Luby studies depression in preschool children.
“Children as young as age 3 can get clinical depression,” Joan L. Luby, MD, Professor of Psychiatry (Child), Director of the Early Emotional Development Program, Washington University School of Medicine.
Dr. Luby’s group found depressed preschoolers had elevated activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala.
“We can see changes in the structure and volume of several key brain regions that are known to be involved in emotion processing,” Dr. Luby said.
The study was the first to show these changes in children so young.
“We believe that the earlier you can identify the disorder, you can treat the disorder more effectively,” said Dr. Luby.
Researchers believe as many as one in every 33 children may have depression. Children with depression are often withdrawn, highly sensitive, have a difficult time dealing with negative emotions, and are preoccupied with feelings of guilt. The symptoms often go unnoticed.
“Most people don’t pick up on depression in their young children. Mostly parents pick up on what we call disruptive symptoms in children,” Dr. Luby said.
But if you do spot the symptoms, getting help could make all the difference.
In very young children, Dr. Luby says a strategy called “parent child interaction therapy” is helpful. It helps strengthen emotional bonds.
For children older than seven, anti-depressants are generally considered safe, however, the FDA has placed a Black Box warning on these drugs because of the increased risk of suicidal thinking.