The ABC’s of Preschool Depression


ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — If your child seems sad all the time, or doesn’t enjoy playtime the way he or she used to, it may not be just a passing phase. As many as two percent of all preschoolers have depression and it’s critical that parents recognize depression early, so they can help manage the symptoms for a healthy and happier childhood.

Six year old “tommy”, as we’ll call him, is in a better place these days. “Tommy’s” family didn’t want us to identify him because of the stigma that still surrounds depression. For a few years, his mother knew something wasn’t right, but nobody could figure out the cause.

“When he was very young we were told maybe its autism.  Maybe it’s diet. Sleeping patterns.  Maybe this or that,” said “Tommy’s” mother.

“Tommy’s” mom finally put the pieces together after doing research on the internet.

“I was searching around looking at those lists: is this your child? Check, check, check, check, check.” “Tommy’s” mother shared with Ivanhoe.

Dr. Joan Luby is an internationally-known expert in childhood mental health at the Washington University in St. Louis.

Luby explained “We now know from research that’s been done over the past 20 years that depression can arise as early as age three.”

Luby says what doctors refer to as preschool onset depression has many of the same symptoms as depression in older kids and adults.

“Parents should look for kids who are persistently sad and irritable, usually for more than two hours in a day, more days than not in a week.” Luby said.

Parents should also watch for eating disturbances and sleep problems like difficulty going to sleep, or waking up during the night. Be alert if your child doesn’t engage in activities he or she used to love. Pay attention if your preschooler is frequently negative about themselves.

“We even in our latest study have picked up on quite a bit of suicidal ideation.” Luby told Ivanhoe.

For preschool-aged children, Luby recommends parent and child behavioral therapy.

For “Tommy” and his family, those regular therapy sessions, involving time to play, have made all the difference.

“He’s much more capable of regulating himself in the moment.  There’s more joy.” “Tommy’s” mother shared.

Luby says antidepressant medication is not recommended for treating children under the age of six.  She says the percentage of children with depression jumps from one or two percent in preschool to eight percent by the time children reach the adolescent years, ages 12 to 18.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

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REPORT #2436

BACKGROUND: Childhood depression is a lot like adult depression. When a child experiences a full blown depression as young as preschool age, it is not usually caused by the parent or environment, but a predisposition.  Children with depressive episodes, also suffer from anxiety disorder.  These types of disorders include separation anxiety where the child will get very real headaches, stomachaches, or diarrhea on school days. The pain comes from their brains not the bowels. Children can also get social phobia and can become mute or be inhibited with generalized anxiety disorder. The signs to look for, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry are hopelessness, frequent sadness, and decreased interest in activities, extreme sensitivity, low self-esteem and guilt, thoughts of suicide or self-destructive disorder among many other signs.


THE STUDY:  Depression in children is likely to be caused by three things: genetics, occurrences in one’s life, and what is going on in a person’s body. Major things have to happen to a child to develop depression. Children with chronic problems like severe asthma, severe head injury, diabetes, epilepsy, and many of the less common chronic childhood diseases can result in depression. Neuropsychiatric illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, tourettes, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and autism can lead to depression as well. A child’s environment can factor into depression as well, circumstances such as abuse, chaos, neglect, and poverty can bring a stressful life for children and cause depression. Television can also play a role, as it has been examined that children who watch 6 or more hours of television can exhibit behavior of depression, anxiety, and aggression.  In teens, substance abuse is common and can lead to depression. Lastly, genetics plays a huge role in depression in children. If one parent gets depression then the child is 40% more likely to get depression as well. The younger the parent was when they got depressed can result in a child getting depressed.  Also when mothers have been seriously depressed, the child is more likely to have severe depression which may result in hospitalization and even suicide.


NEW CONCERN: Earlier this year, a boy by the name of Gabriel Taye, hanged himself after being repeatedly bullied and assaulted in school. The boy was only eight years old. Gabriel was the first youth to die from suicide in 2017. Seven Hamilton county residents (where Gabriel and his family resided) 18 and younger have died in suicides so far this year. Footage showed Gabriel being kicked and pushed to the ground, later it was shown that kids walked over and ignored Gabriel’s seemingly unconscious body on the floor. Police ruled the boy’s death a homicide.


* For More Information, Contact:

Joan L. Luby, M.D.                                                     Judy Martin

Washington University School of Medicine          Director of Media Relations