Depression in toddlers

Depression in toddlers

23 May 2019

Childhood is typically viewed as a carefree, happy time. However, recent studies show that depression can affect even very young children.

How young? According to a 2009 report called “Preschool Depression” researchers found that pre-schoolers as young as three can show signs of major depression. Depression affects about 2% of preschool and school-age kids. And yes, diagnosing childhood depression can be a challenge. The fact that these so-called “internalising disorders” are not as common and also because kids under the age of eight, can’t reliably articulate their emotional suffering, are often reasons why many kids in their younger years go undiagnosed.

However, early treatment and support can avoid mental health problems in the future. Earlier intervention during a period of higher brain neuroplasticity may be more effective in a known chronic disorder that is often difficult to treat later on in life. Think about it, when a child has a lazy eye, patching the good eye can force the weaker eye to get stronger, provided that the treatment is implemented while the child is young. Remember, depression affects how we think and how we see ourselves in the future.

It is difficult to imagine a child as young as pre-school age suffering from clinical depression. Parents may wonder what the typical three-year-old has to be depressed about. Pre-schoolers’ depression is genetically based and can be brought on by stressful events, although stressful events don’t always play a part.

What we do need is a quick and objective test to determine whether our kids are suffering, right? Interestingly enough, research at the University of Vermont has used artificial intelligence to detect hidden depression in the speech of young children. This research was published in the Journal for Biomedical and Health Informatics and according to them the next step will be to develop the speech analysis algorithm into a universal tool for clinical use, perhaps via a smartphone app that could record and analyse results immediately. So yes, there is definitely hope that technology will have the answers at our fingertips.

But, how do you as a concerned parent recognise depression in your pre-schooler? Parents may actually mistake a depressed three-year-old for a “good” child. Kids who are depressed aren’t disruptive in their environment… They are the wheel that’s not squeaky, so to speak.

Guilt is also a big marker – if something goes wrong, they might think that it’s their fault. A general “lack of joy” is all too often noted in the life of a depressed pre-schooler. They also might have changes in their sleeping patterns or appetites – either too much or too little. Also, they might generally be resisting activity and might not enjoy activities normally loved by their healthy peers.

If the symptoms continue to persist over a period of two weeks, a visit to your paediatrician is advised to rule out any physical illness that may be causing the symptoms. Once physical illness is ruled out, have your child examined by a trained mental health professional specialising in children. The specialist will evaluate your child and determine an appropriate diagnosis, and, if necessary, treatment.

Ultimately keeping your child safe and stable is what this journey is about.

Good luck brave mom and dad!


DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.

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