Is Preschool Depression Something Parents Should Worry About?

ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Updated
Mar 2017
Hero Image

Interpreting the behavior of a 3 or 4 year old may often seem like a lost cause. But if you’re even slightly concerned your preschooler is exhibiting signs of depression, know that’s a legitimate problem for some young children. And there’s work being done to combat it.

“Nobody believed preschoolers could get depressed,” Dr. Joan Luby, director of the Early Emotional Development Program at the Washington University School of Medicine, tells TIME. “People generally assumed children under the age of six were too developmentally immature to experience the core emotions of depression.”

But Luby’s newest study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, provides proof of depression in youngsters. Researchers followed 193 children between 3 and 6 years old for 11 years to monitor and collect data from brain scans. Ninety those children had been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. They found that as the children got older, those who experienced depressive symptoms showed a greater loss of cortical gray matter—a substance important for emotion regulation—than those kids who weren’t depressed.

“The early experience of depressive symptoms was the factor that predicted the alteration in gray matter development, even when we controlled for other things that predict that development, like socio-economic status,” Luby says.

The research suggests that depression follows kids into adolescence. In other words, the brain won’t necessarily just grow out of it. Based on these findings and those from her previous research, Luby is also working on a treatment plan to help depressed kids, starting from preschool-age. Aptly named Parent Child Interaction Therapy—Emotion Development (PCIT-ED), it begins with improving the relationship and interaction between parent and child. More information will be available about this treatment plan after Luby completes her randomized trial, which will encompass a broader pool of 250 kids along with their parents.

Related Video

Study: Parents' Moral Characteristics May Be Genetically Passed to Kids

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
02/27/2019

Children Inherit Intelligence From Mothers, Not Fathers, Studies Find

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
10/07/2016

Don't Put a TV in Your Preschooler's Room, Study Says

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
03/07/2019

Born Unique but the Same: Boy Adopts Cat Who Shares His Two Special Features

Sarah Hooper
Associate Social Editor
Published
04/05/2018

Sesame Street Launches New Show in Initiative to Help Refugee Kids

Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
11/18/2019

Meet Blaire: the New American Girl Doll Who Has a Serious Screen Time Problem

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
01/04/2019

17 Book With Plush Sets to Bring Storytime to Life

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor

How to Raise a Happy Baby

Elena Donovan Mauer

My Child Was Bullied at School—And She’s 4

Natalie Thomas
Contributing Writer

Video of a 4-Year-Old Calling Herself Ugly Shares an Important Message

Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
03/09/2020