Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Depression Evidence Seen in Young Children; Brain Scans Make a Case That Therapy Is Needed

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Depression Evidence Seen in Young Children; Brain Scans Make a Case That Therapy Is Needed

Article excerpt

Brain scans of preschoolers show the earliest evidence of depression in young children, according to Washington University researchers.

To measure the early differences in brain function linked to depression, researchers studied more than 50 local children ages 4 to 6. About half of the group had been diagnosed with depression. None had taken any anti-depressant medications. The depressed and healthy brains, when scanned with magnetic imaging, showed differences in the part of the brain that regulates emotions that are also seen in scans of older children and adults with depression.

Young children with depression had increased blood flow to the part of the brain called the amygdala, which regulates emotions, when shown pictures of faces with different expressions.

Researchers at Washington University have studied early childhood depression since the late 1980s. Many adults who suffer from depression report having those feelings for as long as they can remember. The new brain scan findings add physiological evidence that depression in preschoolers is a real phenomenon and that they need therapy to deal with their symptoms, said lead author and assistant professor of psychiatry Michael Gaffrey.

While few statistics are available on clinical depression in preschool children, it is not believed to be common. Parents should be aware of behavior changes in children, particularly those who have family members with mental illness.

Tamar Chansky, a child psychologist in Philadelphia, treats children as young as 3 at the Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety. She has written tips for parents on recognizing normal vs. problematic anxieties in preschoolers. Separation anxiety is normal and healthy in this age range and should improve by the time the child reaches kindergarten. It is also normal for young children to worry about monsters, ghosts and scary characters they encounter in books. These concerns can lead to fears of closets, basements, under the bed and a general fear of the dark.

But Chansky says parents should become concerned when the typical fears of early childhood prevent children from fully participating in social and family activities. …

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