Childhood is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. Through the rose-tinted glasses of memory, most of us look back fondly on our early years as a time of simplicity, contentment and joy. Sure, maybe some bad things happened to us. But we were basically happy.
Children laugh many times more frequently than adults do. Little ones especially bubble over with giggles at the slightest provocation.
What about kids who aren’t happy? Can depression emerge early in childhood? Even in preschool?
An increasing number of psychiatrists and social scientists are saying yes. Preschool depression isn’t an accepted DSM diagnoses yet, but it may be on its way. In the meantime, cutting edge researchers and doctors are treating kids as young as 3 for depression.
The downsides of adding depression to the roster of parental worries for a preschooler are obvious. Drug company reps are chafing at the bit to offer medications to kids in this age group, in spite of the fact that none are approved for use in children so young. Nervous parents and exhausted teachers might easily mistake a toddler’s typical emotional lability for a major mental health issue, and start off down a self-fulfilling path of labelling and treating an illness that doesn’t exist.
But so many adults with chronic depression report suffering the same symptoms in childhood that many researchers have felt compelled to look into it. What they’ve found is that for a small number of children – less than 5% – depression manifests in the preschool years. It resembles adult depression in many ways. Kids lose interest in pleasurable activities, feel sad and self-destructive, become listless.
No one is yet suggesting medication or talk therapy for these children. Instead, play therapy and special training for caregivers and parents seems to help. It can seem dangerous to diagnose a three- or four-year-old as anything other than “being a kid” with all the attendant ups and downs. But for children at the sad end of the mood spectrum, having early intervention may help prevent their depressive moods from interfering with their social and intellectual development.
Have you encountered depression in very young children? Do you think expanding diagnoses and treatment for depression into the very early years will help kids, or lead to overdiagnosis and needless interference with normal kids?
Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography
Are these kids really depressed?