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They Say: Thousands of 3-Year-Olds Depressed

chronically-depressedSometimes a grumpy kid is just that: a grumpy kid. And sometimes a grumpy kid is actually, clinically, depressed. At least according to new research may show depression can be chronic in children as young as 3.

Three!

Clinicians used to think that kids younger than six couldn’t be chronically depressed — that they were too immature to actually experience depression. Then an more recent study claimed 2 percent of all preschoolers — nearly 160,000 were depressed at one time or another.

This new study, out of Washington University in St. Louis medical school and published in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, tracked 200 3- to 6-year-old preschoolers, 75 of whom had been diagnosed with major depression.

From the AP:

Among initially depressed children, 64 percent were still depressed or had a recurrent episode of depression six months later, and 40 percent still had problems after two years. Overall, nearly 20 percent had persistent or recurrent depression at all four exams.

Those who started out in the study depressed were also found to be four times as likely to be depressed 12 and 24 months later. The chronically depressed kids were the ones who were most severely depressed at the beginning of the study.

So what constitutes a depressed kid? How did these researchers determine who was depressed, who was sad and who was simply just kinda dour and mellow?

Instead of bouncy back after a bad mood, depressed kids tended to be sad even when playing, according to the study’s authors. Their games tend to have themes of death or somber topics. Lack of appetite, frequent tantrums, biting, hitting and sleep problems are also signs of depression in the very young.

“[A]nother sign is being preoccupied with guilt over common mishaps. For example, a depressed 3-year-old who accidentally breaks a glass might keep saying, “Mommy, I’m sorry I did that,” and appear unable to shake off that sense of guilt for days, [an author of the study] said.

Depression was most commonly found in kids whose mothers (of course!) suffered from depression or mood disorders. But also was predictable in those who had experienced the death of a parent or physical or sexual trauma.

Not everyone agrees with the findings and some argue the diganostic tools for depression in children aren’t as tested as the ones used for adults.

While it’s hard to believe kids so young could be experiencing a chronic condition like depression, if the study’s findings hold, researchers will be in a better position to start considering earlier intervention and treatment.

Still, three!

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Photo: LA Times

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