Forty years ago, depression was not considered to be an issue with regard to young children. However, research since that time has slowly begun to indicate that major depressive disorders in children do in fact exist. Naturally, treatment of childhood depression has grown to match the growing understanding of the phenomenon. One trend in the research has been to look into the earliest manifestations of depression. As reported last week by Dr. Brian, a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry indicates that children as young as 3 years of age experience depression. The researchers reported that 10 children, or 19%, of the kids who showed major depressive disorder (MDD) at the beginning of the study, continued to show these symptoms 2 years later.They concluded that clinically significant depression exists in preschool children and that early intervention is important.
These findings are controversial for several reasons. As I discussed last week, prescriptions for anti-depressants are increasing at alarming rates. This increase is being seen in both adults and children. Although the research is certainly helpful in calling our attention to depression at its earliest stages and alerting us to the need for treatment, one inevitable result will be an even further increase in anti-depressant prescriptions to very young children.
One of the problems with psychological research is that in attempting to unearth specific factors related to mental health, the larger context can sometimes be neglected. While family therapy interventions should be the treatment of choice for a depressed 3 year old, the reality is that time, financial considerations, and limited personal and community resources favor the use of medication. Again, as indicated in my blog last week, this is reflected in the fact that psychotherapy by psychiatrists has declined during the same 10 year period that anti-depressant use has gone up.
Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.