Depression in the Preschool Set

June 14, 2010 1 min read

Here’s a depressing thought: Depression can strike even in children who are younger than 6, research is showing.

In the April issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, child psychiatrist Joan Luby from Washington University in St. Louis reports findings about depression in preschool-age children and the importance of early detection. The article abstract can be read here.

Symptoms of preschool depression are: the inability to enjoy playtime; changes in sleep, appetite, and activity level, which are common symptoms of the condition; and excessive guilt. But the signs may go unnoticed if the children don’t seem obviously sad or the symptoms may not be disruptive. Like depressed adults, many depressed younger children have periods of normal functioning during the day, according to a news release about the article by the Association for Psychological Science

Age-appropriate psychiatric interviews have been key in recognizing preschool depression, the release said.

Also, research has established that preschool children with depression are more likely to have depression later in childhood, too.

Because of the potentially long-lasting effect of preschool depression, early identification and intervention become very important, the association says.

Young children’s brains are very “plastic"—easily adapt to new experiences and events, the news release says. This plasticity may explain why developmental interventions are more effective if started early on, which may also prove true for psychotherapy, the association says.

Educators, have you had any experience with seeing depression in preschoolers?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.