Knowing the signs of depression and spotting it early on could make treatment more effective, they added.
“Its the same old bad news about depression; it is a chronic and recurrent disorder.” child psychiatrist Dr. Joan Luby, who directs the university’s Early Emotional Development Program, said in a university news release.
“But the good news is that if we can identify depression early, perhaps we have a window of opportunity to treat it more effectively,” Luby said. That could “potentially change the trajectory of the illness so that it is less likely to be chronic and recurring,” she added.
The study consisted of 246 preschool children, ranging from 3 to 5 years old. They were evaluated for depression and other psychiatric conditions over time.
The children and their caregivers participated in six yearly assessments as well as four semiannual assessments. Specifically, the caregivers were asked about their child’s sadness, irritability, guild, sleep and appetite, as well as reduced enjoyment in activities or playtime.
They were also evaluated on interactions with their caregivers through a two-way mirror. This was done to determine if their depression symptoms were a result of not being nurtured by their parents.
At the start of the study, 74 of the 246 children were diagnosed with depression. Six years later, 79 of the 246 children met the criteria for clinical depression, which included about half of the 74 kids diagnosed with depression when the study began.
Just 24 percent of the children who were not depressed as preschools went on to develop depression later. School-age children whose mothers had suffered from depression were shown to be at a higher risk for depression themselves.
Being diagnosed with a conduct disorder while in preschool also boosted a child’s risk for depression later on in elementary or middle school. This chance of developing depression was reduced if children had support from their mother.
“Preschool depression predicted school-age depression over and above any of the other well-established risk factors,” Luby said. “Those children appear to be on a trajectory for depression that’s independent of other psychosocial variables.”
Children should start being screened regularly for depression as young as 3 years old. “The reason it hasn’t yet become a huge call to action is because we don’t yet have any proven, effective treatments for depressed preschoolers.” Luby explained. “Pediatricians don’t usually want to screen for a condition if they can’t’ hen refer patients to someone who can help.”