Our national mythology tells us childhood is a happy time, but that's just so not for a lot of kids. (Take these boys, for instance.) Is it possible that some of these kids need medical intervention?
According to study author, Joan L. Luby, MD from the Washington University School of Medicine, "this research... demonstrates that preschool depression is not clinically insignificant and does not spontaneously resolve."
That does not necessarily mean that all depressed kids need to be treated with anti-depressants. I recently talked to a number of experts about boys and ADHD, and to a person, each and every one said that meds should be a last resort, used after or in conjuction with behavioral and environmental interventions. I'm guessing that the same will hold true for preschoolers and depression. (Another just-published study found that teaching resilience can temper depression and improve grades.)
What it does mean is that we need to watch our kids for signs of depression, symptoms that go beyond normal episodic sadness. Possible symptoms include:
- Intense &/or sudden loss of interest in play
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Sustained decreased joyfulness
- Intense shame and guilt
- Decreased energy
- Changes in school work
- Changes in socialization
- Healthy child complaining of illness
- Change in appetite
- Over-reacting to criticism
Keep in mind that boys may have different symptoms than girls. In a study of teens, boys were more likely to exhibit loss of pleasure, depressed morning mood and morning fatigue. (Hmm...note to self: Watch Boy #2). Among second grade boys, behavior and attention problems are linked to depression.
The good news here is that researchers seem to believe that if depression is caught and treated early, it may be possible to weaken depression's grip. Dr. Luby again: "Applying an intervention at a time when the brain is more changeable or neuroplastic — just like introducing speech therapy as early as possible for children with speech problems — [leads to] the hope or possibility that treatment might be more effective and actually change the trajectory of the disorder."
Very good news indeed.
What do you think? Is it possible for preschoolers to be depressed? Is treatment ever warranted? Or are we simply medicalizing childhood?