“Nothing is fun. I’m bored.”
“Mickey lies. Dreams don’t come true.”
“I can’t do Legos. I will never do Legos. I am not a Legos person. You should take them away.”
All of these statements came out of Kiran’s mouth before he was diagnosed with ‘preschool depression’, also called early on-set depression, at age five.
To many, depression at age five is shocking, but the concept of childhood depression is gradually becoming more widely accepted. Today, numerous child psychiatrists and developmental psychologists believe early on-set depression can even occur in two and three year olds. Child psychiatrist and epidemiologist Helen Egger of Duke University, child psychiatrist professor Joan Luby of Washington University School of Medicine who diagnosed Kiran, in addition to other researchers say 84,000 of 6 million preschoolers in America could be clinically depressed.
Researchers agree that the main symptom to watch out for is sadness. However, as Egger says, the sadness isn’t “I didn’t get the toy I wanted at Target; now I’m really sad”, the sadness should continue over a period of time and in different environments. In addition, sadness when a child doesn’t achieve a goal or get something they wanted is normal, but the inability to deal with the sadness and resolve their emotions is a sign.
“You can watch two kids try to put on shoes, and as soon as something gets stuck, one child pulls it off and throws it across the room,” says Tamar Chansky, who treats preschoolers who are depressed or are at risk for depression. “He hits himself, throws objects and says things like ‘I did this wrong; I’m stupid.’” This is a major characteristic of a child who may be suffering early on-set depression. Insecurity, low self esteem, a sense of guilt and shame all combining to the point when he or she thinks ‘I’m a bad child.’
Parental awareness and an early diagnosis are believed to be an important factor in preventing the chance of further depression once the child has grown up. Understandably, most parents want to distract their children from the negative emotions their children may be feeling. However, Luby believes parents need to help their children think through their feelings. “Often, parents don’t realize that their children experience guilt or shame, Luby says. “In response to transgression, they tend to punish rather than reassure.”
Read the full New York Times article here which includes Kiran’s story, an anecdote of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, other treatments, and possible causes of early on-set depression.
Photo by Ernst Vikne of Flickr.