(03/06/14) - Depressed Pre-schoolers? It may sound far-fetched, but some experts say it is a real problem that parents need to look out for.
For most pre-schoolers, life is about laughing, playing, and having fun! But even the smallest tykes feel down sometimes.
Child psychiatrist Joan Luby, who has been studying depression in preschool children for more than 20 years, says, "children as young as age 3 can get clinical depression."
In a recent imaging study, Luby' group found depressed preschoolers had elevated activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala, "you can see changes in the structure and volume of several key brain regions that are known to be involved in emotion processing."
Their study was the first to show these changes in children so young, she says, "we believe that the earlier you can identify the disorder, that you can treat the disorder more effectively."
Researchers believe as many as one in every 33 children may suffer depression. Children with depression are often withdrawn, highly sensitive, have a difficult time dealing with negative emotions, and are preoccupied with feelings of guilt.
But, Luby says, 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."
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 - emotion development" is helpful. It works on strengthening the parent-child relationship and helps the parent serve as an "emotional coach" for their depressed child.
There are several treatments for older children with depression. Anti-depressants are considered generally safe for children older than seven, but the FDA has placed a "black box" warning on these drugs because of the increased risk of suicidal thinking.
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