It’s hard to think of a 4 or 6-year-old suffering from depression. We often picture them as being joyful, learning new skills and exploring new stuff. It’s not easy to picture them overcome by sadness and negative thoughts. We have a preconceived notion that depression is something that affects only adults or teenagers. And this thinking can only lead to serious repercussions for young kids. And the stigma surrounding depression only makes diagnosis even more difficult. But depression can affect us at any time regardless of our age group.
There was a general assumption that young kids are too immature and mentally underdeveloped to show depressive behavior (1). But with new findings, people are starting to realize that even school-aged kids can be diagnosed with clinical depression. Now it is being widely recognized and treated.
Preschool Depression: Symptoms And Other Things You Need To Be Aware Of
Symptoms of preschool depression:
- Sleep changes
- Change in appetite
- Reduced activity level
- Feeling excess guilt
- Difficulty in concentrating (2)
- Self-blaming and feeling worthless
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling restless or slowed down
- Frequently complaining of headache and stomachache
- Feeling constantly bored
- Easily irritable
- Being clingy
- Being highly pessimistic
They not only show masked behavior like stomach aches and disruptive sleep patterns, they even showcase the typical symptoms like being sad or showing excessive guilt (3). It’s important to understand that these symptoms may not be obvious and they may not be morbidly sad or withdrawn. They may seem like a normal kid and act in a functional way on some days.
Kids who suffer from depression during the early years of their life can continue to suffer from the same well into their school age. So, it’s important to diagnose it as early as possible. Earlier, the idea that young kids could be depressed was discounted by mental health practitioners as well.
In the mid-1980s, it was found that children who are just 6 years old can show depressive symptoms and could even have Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
It’s sad that even after understanding the facts about depression in kids, very little scientific research has been done in children below the age of 6.
Why Do Children Get Depressed?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one specific reason why a child can be depressed. It can be due to several factors – biological, psychological, and environmental (4). If a child had gone through some trauma, like losing a loved one or physical, verbal or sexual abuse, he/she is likely to show depressive symptoms.
Bullying and peer pressure is another reason why kids suffer from depression. Psychological factors leading to depression could be negative social skills, low self-esteem, and a negative body image among a few others. Children who have cognitive and learning problems are also likely to develop depression.
Other contributors to depression include financial struggle, being exposed to violence, social isolation, constant conflict among parents, divorce, etc.
Treatment For Depression
If your child is diagnosed with depression, the different treatment options would include changing the lifestyle, supportive therapy, behavioral changes, complementary treatments, and medication (5). Medications are generally prescribed for moderate to severe cases of depression. For effective treatment, sometimes the doctor may combine medication and psychotherapy if the symptoms are severe. The treatment usually lasts from 6 months to a year.
For infants, therapy is done by music or performing a massage. These kinds of intervention are considered useful when dealing with babies. Depression in children is mainly treated by two major forms of psychotherapy. They are interpersonal therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The word depression may have given you a scare if you are a parent. But you can help your child develop a healthy mentality towards life by being a supportive parent and building a strong relationship with them. Give constant love and care and always be attentive to your child. And if you feel that your child is showcasing a few of the symptoms, consult a mental health professional right away.