Depression & Anxiety Shows in Preschool & Earlier

Sheri Reed
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empty swingAccording to a large population-based study that appears in the October issue of The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers studying depression and anxiety disorder (DAS) are seeing early symptoms in very young children.

Since little is known about what causes depressive and anxiety disorders (DAS), this new information might help professionals to identify and ultimately prevent early risk factors.

The study of 1,759 children, ranging in age from 5 months to 5 years, found that:

  • 15 percent of study participants had unduly high symptoms of depression and anxiety (15 percent!)
  • These children were more likely to have mothers with a history of depression
  • A difficult temperament at 5 months was the most important predictor of depression and anxiety in children

"As early as the first year of life, there are indications that some children have more risks than others of developing high levels of depression and anxiety. We also found that these symptoms increase in frequency during the first 5 years of life," one of the authors, Sylvana Côté, PhD, from the Université de Montréal in Quebec, told Medscape Psychiatry.

The study's main outcome variable was DAS in preschool. They asked the person most knowledgeable about the child — the mother in 98% of cases — questions that included how often the child:

  • is nervous, high strung, or tense
  • appears fearful or anxious
  • appears worried
  • is not as happy as other children
  • has difficulty having fun.

Dr. Côté did point out that an increase in levels of anxiety and depression is expected as children develop, so here's what they found:

  • 29.9% of study group children had low and relatively stable levels of DAS
  • The so-called "moderate-rising" group (the normative group) accounted for the majority of children (55.4%)
  • The high-rising group — those who exhibited notably higher and rising levels of DAS — accounted for 14.7% of the children.

As expected, there were more risk factors in the high-rising group than in the low group.

Amid these new findings is, of course, the need to initiate some preventive action.

According to Dr. Côté, infants of mothers who have a lifetime history of depression should undergo preventive interventions, particularly if the child has a difficult temperament. She also suggests preschool programs that offer social skills training to help them recognize and manage their emotions and parenting programs, which help parents meet the challenges of raising children.

What do you think of these findings? Are you surprised anxiety/depression can be seen so early in life or not so surprised?

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