News | Published April 30, 2014

The importance of testing for depression in childhood

It has been long thought that children are too developmentally immature to exhibit depressive symptoms. If fact, until 1980, depression wasn't even recognized as a childhood disease. However, a new study suggests that even very young children can suffer clinical depression. Scientific studies have demonstrated that depression can surface in the preschool years, estimating that 1 to 3 percent of children between the ages of two and five have depression.

Although sadness and irritability are observed in preschoolers with depression, the most common symptoms include excessive guilt, failure to enjoy play, changes in sleep and appetite, and a decrease in activity level. A depressed preschooler, unlike a depressed adult, may not appear obviously sad or withdrawn and may have periods of normal functioning or lighter moods throughout the day, making it difficult to diagnose. Depression in children may also exhibit as irritability, moodiness, shyness and boredom.

It is not uncommon for parents to be unaware of how depressed their child is, however, if you suspect your child may be suffering from depression, a pediatrician, child psychiatrist or psychologist can help to diagnose him. Treatment options will depend on the development of the child and severity of symptoms, although play therapy is usually used at this age level. Though research does not support the use of antidepressants in children this young, medication of preschoolers, often off-label, is on the rise.