ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CBS St. Louis) – A new study has found that depression in children can start as young as preschool.
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that preschoolers who are depressed are two and a half times more likely to continue to experience symptoms in elementary and middle school.
“It’s the same old bad news about depression; it is a chronic and recurrent disorder,” child psychiatrist Dr. Joan Luby, who directs the university’s Early Emotional Development Program, said in a university news release.
Researchers said that treatment could prove to be more effective if depression is spotted early on in kids.
“But the good news is that if we can identify depression early, perhaps we have a window of opportunity to treat it more effectively,” Luby shared in the news release.
She added that could “potentially change the trajectory of the illness so that it is less likely to be chronic and recurring.”
The study included 246 preschool children ranging from 3 to 5 years of age and were evaluated for depression and other psychiatric conditions over time. Six yearly assessments and four semiannual assessments were conducted on the children and their caregivers.
Researchers asked the caregivers about their child’s sadness, irritability, sleep, appetite, guilt and reduced enjoyment in playtime or other activities.
They also evaluated interactions between the caregivers and their children through a two-way mirror. Researchers used this method to find out if part of the reason why children had ongoing symptoms of depression was due to not being nurtured by their parents.
Seventy-four children were diagnosed with depression when the study began. Roughly six years later, 79 of the children met the criteria for clinical depression, which included about half of the 74 kids who were diagnosed with depression when the study began.
Nearly 24 percent of the 172 children who were not depressed as preschoolers went on to develop depression later. The study found that children whose mothers suffered from depression were at a higher risk for depression.
“Preschool depression predicted school-age depression over and above any of the other well-established risk factors,” Luby stated in the news release. “Those children appear to be on a trajectory for depression that’s independent of other psychosocial variables.”
Researchers believe that children as young as 3 years old should be checked for depression.
“The reason it hasn’t yet become a huge call to action is because we don’t yet have any proven, effective treatments for depressed preschoolers,” Luby explained in the news release. “Pediatricians don’t usually want to screen for a condition if they can’t then refer patients to someone who can help.”
The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.