Depression in preschoolers is real says study

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When we think of depression, we might imagine a sad old man or woman who sits alone day after day, night after night, staring into space, not saying much, feeling as though they have nothing left to live for.

Or, we might imagine a young burnt out executive for whom stress has got the better of him and he has sunk into a deep depression.

Or the image might be of a young mother juggling kids and work and the home, and who can no longer cope.

We may think of a younger adult or teenager who has become fed up and depressed and who is struggling to get their life on track.

The point is, we can think of any number of different people who can become depressed but how many of us would think about a very young child who hasn’t even started school yet? Somehow that doesn’t fit in with our perception of who is likely to be depressed.

Now, child psychiatrist Joan Luby from Washington University in St Louis argues that preschool depression is very real and that it is important that we identify it early on.

One of the problems in diagnosing depression in a preschooler according to Luby is that depression in a very young child may not manifest in exactly the same way as it does for an older person.

“It is difficult to imagine a child as young as preschool age suffering from clinical depression” notes Luby in her report.

“Unlike depressed adults, a depressed preschooler may not appear morbidly or obviously sad or withdrawn, and may have periods of brightening or apparently normal functioning during any given day.

“These features, as well as an inherent resistance to imagining that a preschooler may be depressed, make it more difficult to identify the disorder in young children” says Luby.

According to Luby it’s important that we identify depression in a preschool child as they are more at risk of developing depression later in life.

The problem is how would we treat depression in a child who is 3 years old? Do we give them anti-depressants? I would certainly hope not!

Apparently there’s a new type of therapy for treating preschool depression currently being tested out which is based on Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) and which has been modified to emphasise the child’s Emotion Development (ED).

Luby’s study has been published in the latest version of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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