We've heard so much about depression in adults and teens. But new research shows even young, preschool-aged children can experience early signs of depression.
Preschooler depression is much more than just being a "quirky" or "shy" child. Children as young as 3 years old show early, age-adjusted signs of clinical depression, says Joan Luby, M.D., professor of child psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and director of the Early Emotional Development Program at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
Here are some signs that your preschooler could be depressed.
- Does not seem to enjoy play
- Is often irritable or sad, whines/cries a lot
- Sticks to him(her)self
- Takes on excessive guilt
- Plays with an emphasis on sad/death themes
- Has had changes in appetite
- Seems tired and lacks energy
- Has minimal reaction to joyful events compared to peers
While clinical depression is not common in preschool children, it is important that parents of preschoolers be tuned in to any abnormality or change in a child's behavior especially among young children who come from families with a history of depression, Luby says.
"The best way to confirm if your child exhibits clinical signs of depression is to consult a mental health professional." Luby says. "The sooner a toddler's depression is detected and diagnosed, the sooner the child can begin treatment and learn to manage depression into his/her adolescence and adulthood."
While medication has become more widely accepted in treating adult depression, Luby says many parents she speaks with are hesitant to consider medication for treating depressed children.
"For preschoolers the first line of treatment would be a developmental/therapeutic one," she says. "I recommend parents consider parent-child interaction therapy-emotion development (PCIT-ED), a therapy that involves the child and parent or caregiver. It's medication-free and helps both the child and parent better understand ways to cope with their feelings or depression and to become more emotionally competent in general."