Preschool Depression: What to Look Out For

May is Mental Health Month and a good time to talk about a subject that many parents are unaware even exists:  depression in preschoolers.

The National Mental Health Information Center estimates that as many as one in five children and adolescents may have a mental health disorder, including chronic depression.  But according to experts, even children as young as three can suffer the debilitating effects of this disorder.   And the signs are not always easy to recognize.

Unlike many older children and adults, a depressed preschooler may not be obviously sad.   While they might sometimes display an inability to enjoy playtime, others times their depression doesn’t reveal itself in any obvious external way.  So, how is a parent to know if their preschooler is  depressed?

While there’s no no substitute for professional assistance when it comes to diagnosing and treating depression in people of any age, parents can look out for the following symptoms in their child:

  • appearing less joyful
  • being prone to guilty feelings
  • changes in sleep patterns

New developments in age-appropriate psychological interviews have enabled mental health professionals to better diagnose and treat children who are depressed.  And early intervention, they say, is important.  Studies have shown depressed preschoolers have an increased likelihood of being depressed later in life.  But because their brains are very malleable at this young age, developmental interventions have been proven to be effective when started early.

While there is much more research to be done regarding treating depression in preschoolers, there have been some promising results with a modified treatment based on Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).  To learn more about children’s mental health, visit the National Mental Health Information Center.

Image: masterfile.

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